Writers to Watch This Summer


Zain Khalid’s first novel, “Brother Alive,” is full to bursting with imagination and literary references, and so is the author’s conversation.

Describing the book, he said, “You have something of a bildungsroman, and then you have an epistolary memoir and a leftist political thriller, and it’s kind of,” before trailing off and heading into another multilayered thought.

In a brief conversation, Khalid mentioned the influences of the writers Don DeLillo, Tao Lin, Barry Hannah, Toni Morrison, Italo Calvino, Atticus Lish, Fernanda Melchor, Malcolm Lowry and Thomas Bernhard. In the book’s acknowledgments, he thanks more than 50 writers for what he has “borrowed,” from Edith Wharton to Octavia Butler. “For me, the boundary between art and myself,” he said, “it’s not healthy.”

Despite all these influences — or perhaps because of the sheer volume of them — “Brother Alive” couldn’t be confused for the work of anyone else. The story of three brothers related by adoption, it moves from New York to Saudi Arabia, considering themes of family secrets, geography and fate, utopianism and much more.

Khalid, 32, grew up on Staten Island until he was 12, the child of parents with lineage in a “smattering of places,” he said, including India, Pakistan and parts of the Middle East. The borough, he said, is often reductively caricatured as the city’s “weird conservative sibling,” but its diversity of immigrants is part of what appealed to him in rooting the book there.

In a large Muslim family like his, Khalid said, “lines blur between cousins/brothers, sisters/mothers. It’s almost like the traditional taxonomy isn’t really applicable.”

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