I Trust Boston

The view of Boston on the cover of Painted Hands, taken by my husband.

In the past few months, I’ve had the chance to meet with readers of Painted Hands at author talks, readings, and book club visits, both in person and by Skype. Invariably, readers ask good, thoughtful questions and usually share quite a bit about themselves with me in return. These are wonderful experiences for any author, but especially for a first-time novelist.
Recently, during a book club visit a woman asked me why, since I’m relatively new to the Boston area, I chose to set my novel here.
I love this question.

The first and simplest reason is that Amra and Zainab are extremely dynamic women with high-powered careers, and I knew they were going to have to be in a lively city where they could—and would be forced to—navigate the current political climate.

But there are lots of big, bustling cities, including New York and D.C., where I’ve also lived. And truthfully, I considered setting Painted Hands in New York.
But Boston, this city that I tease by remaining a Yankees fan, was, in the end, the right choice for this particular novel. Boston represents the founding of this country, home to so many key events of the American Revolution. It symbolizes the desire for self-determination. It is rich with the immigrant experience. It has had to grapple with racism and work to overcome segregation. It’s also where battles of religious freedom have taken place. In my novel, Zainab and Taj pay a visit to Salem, where religious persecution and guilt by association once played out with tragic consequences.

All of this felt so very relevant to my novel.
But there's another reason that’s a little harder to explain. Like most authors, I love my characters. I knew bad things were going to happen, particularly to Zainab, an outspoken Muslim woman involved in a contentious political campaign. I trusted Boston with all of it. It’s not that other cities wouldn’t be just as wonderful. But I’ve lived here long enough to understand this: Though this city has endured terrorist attacks, I still feel so comfortable to raise my Muslim family here. I still have not experienced any backlash, or felt any discrimination or bigotry.

When bad things happen, I trust Boston. And maybe that’s the real reason I placed Amra and Zainab here.
I trusted Boston with my characters. And the local readers who I meet with remind me every single time that I had very good reasons to do so.


  1. It's really wonderful to live in a town you feel you can trust!

  2. I know, and I know you know what I mean!

  3. Yer lucky!

    I don't trust my current city much. It's sort of like Gotham, without the Dark Knight.

    My hometown is the safest place I can ever imagine though. Good people there, all. I think that's largely because it doesn't have any majority when it comes to religion or caste.

    Gosh, now I miss home...

  4. Ms Zobair, I bought Painted Hands in Dubai and then left it to languish inside my bedside drawer, not trusting you the author to do justice to the lives of modern, ordinary, everyday Muslim women or being able to 'universalise' the Muslim women experience (ugh) who are of South Asian descent but from Africa. I was so wrong. I loved the book, couldn't put it down. Thank you for writing this book. It filled a void: chic lit that really isn't so. I hope there is another book in the offing :)

    1. Thank you so much for this! I'm so glad you enjoyed my novel, and reached out!

  5. Wow, I am so glad to have found you, Ms. Zobair! I read your post on 'story and chai' -thank you for so generously sharing your letter, btw- and your book description spoke to me so much as a feminist (and thus "bad girl"). We need more voices like yours! I can't wait to read it! Wish you much success with your future work, sis!

    1. Wow, thank you so much! I appreciate this, from one bad girl to another. :)