In The Night Of, an eight-part series that aired on HBO this past summer, college student Nasir Khan’s innocent but unauthorized borrowing of his dad’s taxicab sets off a series of events that leads to his imprisonment and trial for murder. In the first episode, closed circuit shots of Naz, exiting the Queens tunnel on his way into Manhattan or buying a beer from a gas station bodega, interrupt an otherwise-typical following of the night’s events from Naz’s perspective and unnerve viewers long before any crime occurs (though we’re sure there’s going to be one, and that it’s not going to go well for Naz).
Though I won’t call the show perfect, I found it to fall firmly in that rare and glorious confluence of thought-provoking, emotional, surprising, and so-watchable TV. Every episode, each an hour or more, ended too soon. The show’s many interesting characters—Naz and his parents, who are immigrants from Pakistan and practicing Muslims; the detective who thinks this, his last case, may also be one of his easiest; the lawyers who defend Naz and the state’s attorney who’s prosecuting him; are well played and many-dimensioned.
When you’ve finished watching the show, and reading about it on the internet, (and reading show star, English writer and rapper Riz Ahmed’s Guardian long read about being typecast), the following 10 books capture some of the themes, settings, and moods that made the show so good.
American Dervish, by Ayad Akhtar
Haunted by guilt, Hayat Shah remembers growing up in Milwaukee in the early 1980s, dazzled by Mina, “gifted and gorgeous,” his mother’s beloved friend from Pakistan, who fled abuse back home for being too smart.
Everything I Don’t Remember, by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
In this fast-paced, uniquely structured novel, the winner of Sweden’s prestigious August Prize, Tunisian-Swedish Khemiri (Montecore, 2011) explores family, race, inheritance, and memory.
A Sister to Honor, by Lucy Ferriss
Ferriss’ novel is destined to spark discussion and controversy with its depiction of the traditional Pakistani way of life and how jealousy and hatred can create a jihadi, in contrast with the seemingly idyllic lives of students in elite American colleges.
Stained, by Abda Khan
Khan’s fast-paced debut novel portrays an average high-school student whose life is irrevocably altered.
Gone ‘Til November: A Journal of Riker’s Island, by Lil Wayne
The famous rapper’s prison notebooks provide a deeply personal look at how he survived behind bars.
The Injustice System, by Clive Stafford Smith
Kris Maharaj spent more than 20 years on death row, convicted of murdering his ex–business partner, bankrupt and deserted by everyone but his wife. Smith, who had spent 25 years fighting death-penalty cases, took up Maharaj’s cause.
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, Stevenson’s must-read book is a passionate account of the ways our nation thwarts justice and inhumanely punishes the poor and disadvantaged.
Pruno, Ramen, and a Side of Hope, by Courtney B. Lance
Collected stories from those wrongfully convicted and eventually freed.
Rebel Music, by Hisham Aidi
In this bracing, fascinating, and utterly timely exploration of music, race, and cultural identity, Aidi examines young European and American Muslims and their search for what he calls “a nonracist utopia.”
Threading My Prayer Rug, by Sabeeha Rehman
The immigrant’s dilemma of retaining one’s identity while assimilating into American society is always a fascinating story. In this one, readers experience Rehman’s transformation from a young woman in Pakistan to a Pakistani American in New York.