Q&A with Sheba Karim for “The Marvelous Mirza Girls”

Release Date: May 18, 2021
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult


To cure her post-senior year slump, made worse by the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen decides to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi, hoping India can lessen her grief and bring her voice back.

In the world’s most polluted city, Noreen soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With the help of Kabir–plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints–Noreen discovers new meanings for home.

But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complex questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone–and what are the boundaries of love? (Buy it at bookshop.org.)


Can you tell us about The Marvelous Mirza Girls?

The Marvelous Mirza Girls is about an 18 year old named Noreen who’s been grieving the death of her aunt. She decides to defer college and move to New Delhi with her supportive (and hilarious) mother. In Delhi, she falls in love, comes to terms with her grief and gets her voice back.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve lived in New Delhi on and off for the past 10 years, it’s a city that’s very close to my heart and I wanted to write a novel set there. I really enjoy reading narratives about American protagonists returning to the homeland of their parents, or grandparents (or, in this case Noreen’s grandparents prior to their migration to Pakistan during Partition), a kind of reverse belonging, that sometimes unsettling experience of both being and feeling foreign yet familiar.

I also wanted to write a love story; That Thing We Call a Heart is about love gone wrong, and Mariam Sharma Hits the Road is about friendship, and I wanted to write a story about falling love, a deep, beautiful, “I’ll never be the same again“ kind of love.

This book deals with heavy, challenging topics. What part of this book was the most difficult to write?

It was a challenge to capture Delhi, to distill the feel of a place into words, as seen through Noreen’s eyes. How do you do justice to a place like the ruins of Firoz Shah Kotla, with all its supranatural and emotional elements? Writing about the MeToo aspect was also hard, but that comes with the territory when writing about any topic which may engender strong reactions in a reader.

What authors or books inspire you as a writer and a reader?

Lately, I’ve been inspired by Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegy, for the nuanced ways it tackles issues like capitalism and identity, and Syed M. Masood’s The Bad Muslim Discount for its humor and depiction of complex characters within a Muslim American community. Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies for how it packs so much emotional power into its stories and for how it plays with structure and form. All of David Arnold’s YA books for their beauty and ability to surprise. Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America for her emphatic and often humorous use of interiority.

What message do you want teen readers to take away from your book?

The lamp of your heart is lit by love, in all its forms. If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.

What (if anything) can you tell us about your next book?

My next project is to work on a script inspired by The Marvelous Mirza Girls. After that, we shall see.

What books are you reading now or have read recently that you want to recommend?

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanium, Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri.

About the Author

Sheba Karim’s fourth novel, The Marvelous Mirza Girls, is out May 18, 2021. She is the author of the YA novels Skunk GirlThat Thing We Call a Heart and Mariam Sharma Hits the Road. Her fiction and essays have been featured in 580 Split, Asia Literary Review, Femina, India Today, Literary Hub, Off Assignment, Shenandoah, South Asian Review, The Rumpus, Time Out Delhi and in several anthologies in the United States and India.

Mariam Sharma Hits the Road, which follows the misadventures of three South Asian-American best friends as they embark upon a road trip through the American South, was named a NPR Best Book of 2018 and a Bank Street Best Book of the YearThat Thing We Call a Heart, in which a young woman’s explorations of loyalty and love is informed by the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry and the history of Partition, was named a Best Contemporary Teen Read of 2017 and a Best Teen Book of 2017 with a Touch of Humor by Kirkus Reviews, an Amelia Bloomer Best Feminist Book for Young Readers by the American Library Association and a Bank Street Best Book of the Year.  She is the editor of the anthology Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Short Stories 2 (Tranquebar Press, 2012).

She has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, Ledig House, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and The Millay Colony for the Arts.  She is represented by Ayesha Pande Literary.

Sheba was raised in the land of Rip Van Winkle, spent a long time living in New York City, a shorter time living in New Delhi and now lives in Nashville, TN, where she is a Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University.

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