Almas Akhtar’s The Fearful Lion invites readers to enter her colorful tale of a Pakistani-American’s struggles with anxiety, love, and prejudice. The Fearful Lion already is inspiring robust conservations around the critical topics of understanding and awareness in regard to diversity and prejudice in today’s challenging world. This urgent need for dialogue and authentic discussion around these issues is precisely what led Akhtar to write this story.
Akhtar hopes readers will find The Fearful Lion a story they not only relate to, but that inspires them to reflect on these issues in their own lives and their corner of the world.
The story begins as we meet the buoyant and brilliant Osama Ali Khan, a young man desperately looking to overcome his emotional insecurities. After being abandoned by his parents as a baby, and subjected to wrong assumptions and ethnic stereotypes as an adult, he must fight for his soul. As he tries to conquer his many fears, Osama is helped by the cheerful and exuberant Sarah, who he meets at the campus of the University of Michigan. With the aroma of garam masala and the flavor of Pasta e Fagioli in the background, their life together grows “perfectalicious”…until the fateful events of September 11.
As stated in the Kirkus Review: “The Fearful Lion is thought-provoking and engaging … an exploration of complex racial and mental health issues in America.” Akhtar’s ages-old tale of love and conflict provides a common landscape that is simple in its telling and cutting-edge in its examination of oppression in the form of racism and fear as prejudice.
Here’s what the author had to say in a recent interview about her motivation and her hopes in writing The Fearful Lion.
Inkwater: Almas, you are a writer with 10 years of blogs and short stories to your credit. What prompted you to write The Fearful Lion at this time?
I wrote this story just to tell my point of view. I, and many like me, may have a slightly unusual name which can be hard to pronounce. Our cuisine might be a little too spicy and we do fast in the month of Ramadan but we are like just any other American. We laugh, we sing, we dance, and we enjoy listening to music, too. We thoroughly enjoy basketball games, Hollywood films, Fourth of July fireworks. America is our birthplace and our identity too. We love the stars in its skies along with the stripes on its streets. We work hard making big moves in the tech industry in the United States, creating products and raising hundreds of millions of dollars in startup capital in Silicon Valley in California. We work diligently to save a patient’s life.
Inkwater: Your characters in The Fearful Lion are quite diverse in their backgrounds and personalities. Will you share with us what inspired such unique personalities?
I am an immigrant myself. I moved from Pakistan. America and its people welcomed me with open arms. No other country in the world is so diverse. This makes America even more beautiful. In this country friendship is not defined by your creed or your name. I like meeting people from different backgrounds and writing about them.
Inkwater: You have a very direct writing style that makes the compelling story of Sarah and Osama accessible and engaging. Is there a particular writer who has influenced you more than others?
I had always liked reading books by Sidney Sheldon. I greatly enjoyed reading Fault in our Stars by John Green and Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. Actually, I don’t follow anyone. As my children were growing up, I used to make up a new story for them every night before putting them to sleep, including fairies, witches, and dancing horses. I always enjoyed narrating stories. I call myself a storyteller. I want to tell my story in a simple way. I try to focus on social issues, and my characters are from diverse backgrounds.
Inkwater: What do you hope to achieve by bringing The Fearful Lion into the world?
Understanding, awareness—everyone, every person in the world has a story. No one should be labeled on the basis of a certain name, a typical face, a particular background. There is good and bad everywhere.
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