In her first novel, The Unquiet Dead, Khan, a British-born Canadian with a doctorate in international human rights law, revisits the atrocities in the Balkans through the lens of an investigation by Toronto police detectives.
Was The Unquiet Dead always going to be a mystery about Bosnian genocide, or did either the mystery or genocide idea come first?
The war was the main subject of my academic research for years, and I wanted to write about the Bosnian genocide in a way that would engage readers’ interest and draw them in. I chose to write a mystery as a way of telling what I hope is a meaningful story, and also because mysteries are what I most love to read.
Will Esa Khattack, the head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, and his sergeant, Rachel Getty, be back for more?
Esa and Rachel will definitely be back. They have a lot of growing to do, personally and professionally. And there are many little-known stories that I think are important to tell, particularly from Esa’s often undervalued perspective as a Muslim in the West. Next up is a murder linked to a terrorism plot. I’m trying to subvert traditional expectations of what that story might be.
Your story has multiple villains whose sins range from war crimes to what could be described as criminal narcissism. Why did you choose to display so much of humanity’s dark side?
The terrible crimes of the Bosnian war have stayed with me. As a student activist during the war, I would ask myself how people could do this to each other, and more importantly, why? It’s become too easy to demonize those who are different from ourselves. I explored these themes because I think it’s important to understand what lies at the heart of so much darkness. The same holds true at a personal level. Ordinary people can do terrible things, if left unchecked.
With our 24/7 news cycle, the war in Bosnia is a distant memory for most Americas. How important do the events in the Balkans remain for Muslims worldwide?
It was a touchstone at the time, but it’s largely forgotten now. Other causes, other tragedies have come to the forefront. I wrote this book because it’s too soon to forget. The Bosnian people still wait for justice.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Reading, traveling, human rights research, history, poetry, the ongoing agonies of the Muslim world are the things that fascinate and drive me.