Thinner Than Skin

Uzma Aslam Khan

Winner of French Embassy Prize for Best Fiction At Karachi Literature Festival 2014
Longlisted for The Dsc Prize For South Asian Literature 2014
Longlisted for The Man Asian Literary Prize 2012

Thinner than Skin

‘Smart, fierce, and poignant: perhaps the most exciting novel yet by this very talented writer.’ Mohsin Hamid (Author of ‘Moth Smoke’ and ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’)

Although it is infused with the tensions in Pakistan, this subtle right-of-passage novel, which takes us from Karachi to Peshawar, has the virtue of being focussed on the natural wilderness, glaciers and ‘everything alive’ rather than on war and terrorism. The portraits of Himalayan nomadic women are arresting. There is power, serenity and grace in the writing of this literary daughter of the great Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.’ Le Monde

‘In gorgeous prose, Khan writes about Pakistan, a land of breathtaking beauty, and the complex relationships between people who are weighted with grief and estrangement. As her characters’ lives play out against the backdrop of the external world whose violence gradually closes in on them, Khan brilliantly probes the fatal limitations of human understanding. A novel of great lucidity and tenderness, filled with splendid descriptions of the land, the people who have always inhabited it, and those who are irresistibly drawn to it.’ Thérèse Soukar Chehade,
(Winner of the 2011 Arab-American Book Award)

THINNER THAN SKIN is about identity and about belonging. It’s also a love story: between a young Pakistani man trying to make his way as a photographer in America, and a girl of a Pakistani father and German mother brought up in the US who wants to ‘return’ in the classic diaspora way. They make the trip to Pakistan and what happens there will change them and their relationship forever and be fatal for some. This novel is also a love letter to the wilds of Northern Pakistan, to glaciers, to the nomadic life of the indigenous people in the Northern territories, the old silk road, an area where China encroaches and Pakistani nomads, Uzbeks, Russians, Chinese and Afghans all mix together to trade.

‘Human fates juxtaposed with a complex geopolitical situation make for an interesting read.’ Publishers Weekly

‘Thinner than Skin is a riveting and timely novel about identity, belonging, and love; a novel about the clash of cultures and the impact of imposing beliefs and preconceptions on others. Nadir, a young Pakistani man trying to make his way as photographer in America, falls in love with Farhana, the daughter of a Pakistani father and German mother brought up in the US, who yearns to make a pilgrimage to a country she’s never seen. Together they journey to Pakistan, but they are not the only interlopers here: a suspect in a recent bombing has arrived just before them, and the authorities’ hunt for him casts a dangerous shadow over their journey. It is here, in this magnificent landscape – where anthropomorphic glaciers are born of mating ice – that a chance meeting with a young nomad will change their lives and the lives of those around them, tragically and forever.

Thinner than Skin is a haunting paean to the troubled wilds of Northern Pakistan, to its glaciers, to the old Silk Road, and to the vanishing nomadic life of the indigenous people in the Northern territories, where China encroaches, and Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Russians, Chinese, and Afghans all come together to trade – food and livestock, guns and secrets, songs and folktales. It is a work of piercing beauty and intelligence, and an urgent novel for our times.’ Man Asia Prize Jury

‘A story of love and identity, Uzma Aslam Khan’s Thinner than Skin is set among the magnificent landscape of glaciers, mountains, rivers and valleys in northern Pakistan and the indigenous Gujjar people, handsome, hospitable and in control of their destinies until the scourge of terrorism begins to destroy their lives. Thenovel delves into the emotions of grief and love as the author attempts to show how lives are unravelled without warning and individuals shaped by their environment. There are three parallel perspectives in this novel, as Khan navigates through the mountainous terrain (geographically and sensually) with the expertise of a seasoned adventurer — she is known not to stay away from fearlessly probing into relationships and what silently lingers within the private realm.’ The Dawn, Pakistan

‘…a virtuoso performance – a master class in the art of creative writing.’ India Today

‘Thinner than Skin, marked by a quivering sensitivity of tone in the manner of fellow novelist Nadeem Aslam… The carefully-woven prose has many languorous descriptions of inner and outer states as well as a subterranean unfurling of plot.’ Time Out Mumbai

‘You don’t just read Thinner than Skin; you enter it, and inhabit it, to comprehend it. You’ll be richer, of course… The brilliant author’s best, thus far.’ First City

‘Here in the West we don’t receive many English-language novels by Pakistani women authors, so when we do we should pay attention… Thinner Than Skin has elements of quest, thriller, love story and legend, with unconventional characters’ The Star, Toronto

‘Pakistan may not be the easiest place to be these days but this bracing narrative manages to forge a connection with the land’s inimitable spirit with a few precision strokes. While it may not be easy to comprehend the land’s many moods — a fusion of proud traditions and fickle desires — it takes a really good listener to bring its inherent contradictions to life. The compassionate commentary uses the outlines of [this] uneasy backdrop to compose its heartfelt plea right after the silent denunciation. Though her glistening prose illuminates the changing face of Pakistan, the afterglow exposes the debilitating depths and muffled cries… Thinner Than Skin acts as a beacon to these inhospitable looking shores.’ Pakistan Daily News

‘The quality of Khan’s prose is deft and inspiring. Her analogies are extended, her descriptions poetic, thick with adjectives and metaphors. But, luckily for the reader, her sentences are not contrived. And all along, she tells the story well. This book is a must-read for all those who need to know more about the eclectic people and the riveting beauty of a land called Pakistan.’ TTS Newsline, Pakistan


  • Clockroot/Interlink USA
  • HarperCollins Canada
  • HarperCollins India
  • Galaade Editions France
  • Erdem/Sedir Turkey
  • Jacaranda Books UK, paperback edition coming November 2021
  • Elan Vital Pakistan
  • Al Arabi Egypt

‘Ice, Mating’ chapter included in Granta Magazine 112 ‘Pakistan’

Material: Finished copies (345pp)