An Isolated Incident: A Novel

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  • Townsend Prize for Fiction Finalist

  • KLF Fiction Prize Finalist

  • Amazon Rising Star pick

Zari Zoon, a vivacious girl from Kashmir, is looking forward to marrying her fiancé when tragedy strikes. Next thing she know, she is on a plane to America to stay with distant relatives who have offered to give her a temporary home to help her stitch back the tatters of her life.

Billy Nabi, fiercely tender-hearted, longs to help Zari but the choices he makes will jeopardize them all. An Isolated Incident is a story of haunting memories and yearnings of a home lost, of a faith continuously tested and questioned and of a love that survives against all odds.

SRINAGAR

Kashmir. 1996

The cleaning woman glanced at her digital watch— a gift from the Zoons—and quickened her pace towards their residence. She drew her shawl closer Her plastic sandals kicked up a fine grit warmed by the Srinagar sun. She sneezed. A stray dog glanced at her as it peed on a boundary wall separating the bungalows from the road.
Turning a corner, she heard the Zoons’ pet ducks quacking. She was surprised to find the Zoon’s metal gate unbolted, and as she walked up the gravel driveway towards the house, she hoped to find Mrs. Zoon standing under the wood carved doorway waiting to admonish her for tardiness. But there was no Mrs. Zoon, and the front door was open wide.
She crossed the drawing room, the family room, passed the staircase, and out the back door into the pergola leading to the kitchen. In the kitchen, the white gilt edged crockery lay smashed on the floor. Ants marched in military lines over spilled food. A duck whisked past; she screamed. Catching her breath, she pressed towards the back garden.
She smelled it first, an acrid, iron odor like rust on garden tools, and when she came upon the small pond bristling beneath the sunshine, she slapped her chest.
“Hathay vay,” she moaned, “Yi kya goam? What has happened?”
They were lying at odd angles, their clothes torn and spattered with congealed blood. She thought everyone was dead when she saw the movement, an unearthly sluggishness, a body cradling a little boy. Realizing it was no apparition, the cleaning woman crept closer and put her hand on the girl’s bloody shoulder.
The girl rocked back and forth, her tall frame halved as she curled round the little boy like a tight shell. She clutched his paint stained fingertips and wouldn’t let go, not even when the police arrived and began to putter around her like pigeons in a field of crumbs, their pencils scratching against their lined notepads: Bodies…

Bodies.

***

The sun shone down the mountains and into the Kashmir valley like thick yellow teeth biting warmth into the winter air, brightening the shabby billboards— Kashmir Emporium, Pamposh Pashminas, Kingfisher Handicrafts —looming over the Boulevard, the main thoroughfare in the city of Srinagar. Three girls and a fidgety little boy nestled in the midst of the crowd; Zari Zoon, Zari’s best friend, Sonea, Zari’s elder sister, Kiran, and Zari’s nephew and Kiran’s four year old son, Baz.
Zari stood on the sidewalk overlooking Dal Lake, her fists buried inside her pale peach cardigan. She glanced at the go-cart vendor tossing her order of corn kernels in hot salted sand, the cool lake-breeze scattering the smoke from the brazier into beautiful filigrees which, never-the-less, stung her eyes. A few steps away Baz hung over the squat cement railing looking out to the lake. He was flanked by Sonea and Kiran who clutched his blue hoodie.
“Zari Khala,” Baz pointed to a carnival of birds flying overhead, their lean bodies and tapering necks casting spear shadows over the rippling water. “Zari Khala, can I draw the birds with the new paints you got me?”

KASHMIR CALLING

A Memoir

Soniah’s Mother and Grandfather

They arrived in chariots called rickshaws. In my earliest adolescent memories, the chariot always came late at night, its deep grumbling engine crumbling the dark silences. And then the sudden quiet as the engine was turned off, hands banging-clanging on our metal gate, the doorbell trilling nonstop, the coughs and footsteps of either the live-in driver or the cook passing underneath my bedroom window as he hurried down the driveway to unlock the padlock on the gate, my father rising to unlock the main entrance, my house suddenly alight with life as my mother and maternal grandparents scrambled downstairs, sleep still simmering in their eyes, and then loud shrieks in Kashmiri: “Keri chu? Vari chu? Ahnaz, Ahnaz? How are you? How’s everything? Fine, fine.” I would bounce out of bed and bound down the stairs and there they were, my Khalas, my mother’s sisters, having arrived, unannounced, from this magic kingdom called Kashmir.

In the living room, the gas heater leapt to a blue flame-orange ember enchantment over the revellers, all talking at the same time, louder and louder, elation filling our house like excited children in a schoolyard, and yet everyone caught what everyone was saying and there was so much laughter, too much laughter.

“Stop laughing, stop laughing, for fear of the evil eye,” Moji, my grandmother, cautioned, but although all three sisters were prone to superstition, at this time they would calm down only for a moment before starting up again.


Full essay included at the back of the novel.

Top Ten Books in Liberty Books


Khaled Hosseini author of the novels The Kite Runner and And the Mountains Echoed.

Soniah Kamal has written a riveting and deeply engaging novel about the longstanding turmoil in Kashmir and the multi-generational impact of the conflict on one ordinary family. With remarkable poise and elegant, precise prose, Kamal explores identity and exile, hope and disillusionment, and the myriad fault lines in the lives of the people living in the shadow of war. A wonderful novel.


SFK Press Review

Soniah Kamal embodies the ideal voice of the new millennium. Zari Zoon’s compelling journey from haunting disaster in Kashmir to the promise of renewal in America is a rewarding tale for those eager to read outstanding fiction.


Christal Presley author of Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD

An Isolated Incident is a gripping, heart breaking tale of the reverberating effects of trauma, and of finding peace in the most unlikely off places. Kamal masterfully weaves this complex story of loss, love and war, and skillfully explores the effects of PTSD, and of losing and finding oneself.


Muneeza Shamsie Journal of Commonwealth Literature.

Soniah Kamal’s powerful and harrowing first novel An Isolated Incident revolves around strife-riven Kashmir, that epicentre of unending conflict between India and Pakistan. A young Kashmiri woman, Zari Zoon is the only survivor of an attack on her family in Srinagar by nameless, unidentified men. Kamal portrays Zari’s trauma with remarkable skill, including the tricks of memory. An accomplished debut.


Ali Eteraz author of the memoir Children of Dust: A Portrait of a Muslim as Young Man

A delicate novel about global conflicts and inner torments, Soniah Kamal’s An Isolated Incident, illuminates not just the history of Kashmir, but also the dislocation of its children. This novel is a welcome and linguistically rich reminder about the varieties of love and the myriad ways we yearn for belonging.


Kola Boof author of the novel Sexy Part of the Bible and memoir Diary of a Lost Girl

I loved An Isolated Incident. Soniah Kamal is a flawlessly intuitive writer whose unpretentious yet shimmering prose sneaks up on you like remembering a simple proverb you’re suddenly old enough to understand.  A magically familiar other world filled with true note characters, I did not want this story to end but the reward is that I will carry it inside me forever. If you’re bound by family yet compelled by your dreams and desires, you will find this lucid and powerfully addictive novel worth every penny.


Dipika Mukherjee author of the novel Ode to Broken Things

Wonderful writing, well-developed characters, and a much-needed focus on some geopolitical issues that are rarely covered in fiction. Kamal’s writing is exquisite in places, bringing alive Kashmir as well as life in America. Strongly recommended.


Shikha Malaviya author of the poetry collection Geography of Tongues

An Isolated Incident is a searing exploration of identity, belonging and the many meanings of home in our global world. A bittersweet love story that traverses continents and cultures, it grips the reader in its myriad shades of loss, longing, and redemption. With deep, psychological insight and prose that wraps around you softly like a pashmina shawl, Soniah Kamal has written a hauntingly beautiful novel that stays etched in one’s mind and heart.


Jessica Handler author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir and Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing about Grief and Loss.

Soniah Kamal’s An Isolated Incident dazzles. This novel is a lovely read; warm, involving and well crafted. As Zari and Billal, and their families struggle to make sense of their fractured world, we recognize the hope and promise of love. I felt for Zari and Billy– for all of them.


Ayesha Mattu editor and author of Love Inshallah: The Secret Lives of American Muslim Women 

In a captivating debut novel, Soniah Kamal peels back the headlines of the global now with nuance and beauty to explore the enduring human issues of love, war, migrations, faith and fortitude. An Isolated Incident is a lyrical and powerful novel written with razor-sharp intelligence and tenderness. It will linger with you long after you are done.


Anjali Mitter Duva author of Faint Promise of Rain

A very deft and thought-provoking portrayal of how a belief or conviction can be created, nourished, held aloft, fought for, and ultimately shattered


Sayantani Dasgupta author of Fire Girl: Essays on India, America and the In-Between

Filled with rich descriptions and characters, An Isolated Incident is a fast-paced novel. I liked the author’s succinct summary of Kashmir’s problematic history, and her ability to portray the roles of all three political players–India, Pakistan and Independent Kashmir– as equally complex. There are lots of beautiful sentences to love and I can only imagine the hard work that went into constructing the sweeping narrative arc of the novel.