The Empty Room, a conversation and reading with Sadia Abbas

September 26, 2018

Please join us on Friday, October 12th, to hear Dr. Sadia Abbas, Associate Professor in the English Department at Rutgers-Newark, discuss her debut novel, The Empty Room; Pakistani politics; and her next book project comparing the Greek-Turkish population transfers and the Partition in India.

This public talk is presented as part of the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies Fall Seminar Series, which features exciting, new research in Hellenic Studies from disciplines such as Archaeology, Classics, Literature, and Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greek History.

Please note that there will be a limited number of books for purchase at the event.

Campus: Burnaby
Room: Academic Quadrangle 6229
Date: October 12, 2018
Time: 3:30-5:00pm

This event is free, but seating is limited. RSVP to

Dr. Sadia Abbas, Rutgers University

Sadia Abbas grew up in Karachi and Singapore and now spends a great deal of time in a village on the island of Lesvos. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University and is associate professor in the English department at Rutgers-Newark.  She specializes in postcolonial literature and theory, the culture and politics of Islam in modernity, early modern English literature, especially the literature of religious strife, and the history of twentieth-century criticism.

She is the author of at At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (co-winner of the MLA first book prize) and numerous essays on subjects ranging from Renaissance poetics to the Greek crisis to contemporary theorizations of Muslim female agency. She is currently working on a book on Greece and the idea of Europe, a second novel and co-producing a book on Shahzia Sikander's work with Jan Howard for the RISD museum. The Empty Room is her first novel.

The Empty Room

In 1970s Karachi, where violence and political and social uncertainty are on the rise, a beautiful and talented painter, Tahira, tries to hold her life together as it shatters around her. Her marriage is quickly revealed to be a trap from which there appears no escape. Accustomed to the company of her brother Waseem and friends, Andaleep and Safdar, who are activists, writers and thinkers, Tahira struggles to adapt to her new world of stifling conformity and fight for her identity as a woman and an artist.

Tragedy strikes when her brother and friends are caught up in the cynically repressive regime. Faced with loss and injustice, she embarks upon a series of paintings entitled ‘The Empty Room’, filling the blank canvases with vivid colour and light.

Elegant, poetic, and powerful, The Empty Room is an important addition to contemporary Pakistani literature, a moving portrait of life in Karachi at a pivotal moment in the nation's history, and a powerful meditation on art and the dilemmas faced by women who must find their own creative path in hostile conditions. 

What People Are Saying about the Book:

“Regret is only one kind of torment in a world generous with pain,” writes Sadia Abbas. In her debut novel, regret and pain appear in light, luminous hues as the story of a new nation, struggling to retain its democratic resolve, is enmeshed with the story of a rocky marriage. The courage, wit and capacity for love displayed by the characters are sure to linger long after the last chapter has been read.

Annie Zaidi, author of Gulab and Love Stories # 1to 14

A gripping and wonderfully observed account of domestic life and its many perils in Pakistan's early decades. The portrait of a marriage set in the minefield of an extended family, this novel offers us an extraordinarily nuanced view of a woman's life.   

Faisal Devji, author of The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence

The Empty Room, writer, scholar and critic Sadia Abbas’s evocative, illuminating debut novel, unveils a vivid portrait of a woman painter and activist creating a life in 1970s Karachi. Exploring the private and public, the personal and political, Abbas's poetic and psychologically probing story reveals not just her profound grasp of a key moment in Pakistani history, but an artist’s capacity to create a world.

John Keene, author of Counternarratives

See also

Scroll India Review

Vivek Tatuja Review

Excerpt in Scroll

Excerpt in Brooklyn Rail

Interview in the Daily Times

Interview in the Friday Times

Interview in Rutgers Papers