I am super excited to share my first ever author interview with you all today! Just a month ago, I had the immense pleasure of reading Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin–a warm, heartfelt romantic comedy featuring Muslim families and two rival halal restaurants.
The book follows the story of a twenty-something Canadian-Indian Muslim woman named Hana, who dreams of telling stories of her people on the radio. Trouble brews when Hana and her family’s restaurant is threatened by the arrival of a fancy new halal restaurant in their area, and although Hana hates the new competition, she can’t help but feel drawn to the young restaurant owner too.
Covering important issues about representation, identity and finding your own voice in a world that would rather erase your narrative, Hana Khan Carries On is a beautifully written, heartfelt romantic comedy. It is by far one of the best books I have read in 2021, and I am delighted that the author Uzma Jalaluddin sat down with me to talk about this amazing book! 💜
From the author of Ayesha at Last comes a sparkling new rom-com for fans of “You’ve Got Mail,” set in two competing halal restaurants
Sales are slow at Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, the only halal restaurant in the close-knit Golden Crescent neighbourhood. Hana waitresses there part time, but what she really wants is to tell stories on the radio. If she can just outshine her fellow intern at the city radio station, she may have a chance at landing a job. In the meantime, Hana pours her thoughts and dreams into a podcast, where she forms a lively relationship with one of her listeners. But soon she’ll need all the support she can get: a new competing restaurant, a more upscale halal place, is about to open in the Golden Crescent, threatening Three Sisters.
When her mysterious aunt and her teenage cousin arrive from India for a surprise visit, they draw Hana into a long-buried family secret. A hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival restaurant—who might not be a complete stranger after all.
As life on the Golden Crescent unravels, Hana must learn to use her voice, draw on the strength of her community and decide what her future should be.
Read My Interview With Author Uzma Jalaluddin
Tanaz: Assalamu alaikum Uzma Apu! Welcome to The Keysmash Blog; it’s truly an honor to have you here with us. For those of us who haven’t met you before, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Sure! My name is Uzma Jalaluddin, and I am the author of HANA KHAN CARRIES ON, a romantic comedy set in two rival halal restaurants in Toronto, Canada. My first novel, AYESHA AT LAST, is a Pride and Prejudice retelling set in a close knit immigrant neighbourhood. In addition to writing books, I write a parenting and culture column for THE TORONTO STAR, Canada’s largest newspaper, and I also teach high school. Yes, I’m a busy person! I have two teenage sons and I live with my husband and my kids just outside Toronto, where I was born and raised.
Tanaz: Congratulations on the release of your second book, Hana Khan Carries On! I loved reading your story so much, and I cannot wait for others to read your book and enjoy it as much as I did. Hana’s story is truly one of a kind; she is an ambitious, proud young Muslim woman with big dreams and a courageous heart. What inspired you to write her particular story?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Hana Khan was such a fun character to write! I was trying to tap into that feeling young women have, in their early 20’s – the world feels wide open but also daunting, when school is done and they are ready for the next step, but not really sure what that next step will be. Hana is a strong, confident young woman, she is self aware and courageous, but also really vulnerable. I think her vulnerability in particular is relatable to a lot of people, including me. She grew organically in my mind, over the course of several years of drafting. I’m so pleased to have been able to make her acquaintance!
Tanaz: There is quite a lot that goes on in Hana Khan Carries On. Although a wholesome love story, the book also explores the nuances of the every day life of a Muslim woman. I particularly loved how masterfully you explained our traditions and beliefs to your readers and interweaved them into the plot of your novel. What was your biggest challenge in the writing process when doing this? And how did you overcome it?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Figuring out a plot is always a challenge for me. I find character development comes relatively easily, but nailing down plot takes a few tries. This book also has a LOT of plot. I wanted it to be very fast paced – with something happening on every page. I think sometimes life really is like that – you have a few months of frenetic activity, and then things calm down. It was also really important to me to make sure to get the Muslim representation right. As an observant Muslim woman myself, I wanted to do justice to the stories and traditions I grew up with, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to go about painting a picture of Muslim life that felt authentic and nuanced.
Tanaz: Proper representation of minorities is a central theme in this book. Much of Hana’s journey involves trying to tell the right, authentic stories about her people. Can you tell us about a specific personal experience that made you want to share important, untold stories about our people?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Around 2007, a popular television show launched in Canada, called LITTLE MOSQUE ON THE PRAIRIE. It was an ensemble comedy that featured mainly Muslim characters, who all lived in a small town in Western Canada. The Muslim characters were business owners and doctors, they all got one-liners, fell in love, argued, and just lived their normal lives. It was the first time I had ever seen a normal Muslim person represented on the screen. I remember watching the show with my husband, and just marvelling that this show actually existed. It made me realize how much I craved stories from my community that showcased something other than empty stereotypes about violent extremists and oppressed women. I started writing my first novel shortly after that.
Tanaz: Is there anything you would like to tell young women like Hana who are struggling to voice their unique experiences in a society that would rather stick to stereotypical narratives?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Your voice is important. Your voice is needed. Don’t be afraid to keep speaking up, and tell your story!
Tanaz: Hana is a very talented storyteller (much like you). What was the inspiration behind making her a podcaster instead of a blogger or a writer?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Hana’s interest in podcasting came from me – I’m a huge fan of the format. I listen to all sorts of podcasts, from Canadian produced ones to American produced, non-fiction, news, commentary, fiction, anything really. I discovered them a few years ago and now I listen to podcasts while I take a walk, or cook, or drive – they’re amazing! I love the intimacy of podcasts. I thought if Hana had an anonymous podcast where she could voice her thoughts out loud, it would add a fun element to the book.
Tanaz: I loved all the main characters and supporting characters in Hana Khan Carries On. They were all intriguing and wonderfully well-developed. Kawkab Khala in particular is one of my favorites; is there a person in your real life who inspired her character?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Yes! Kawkab Khala is inspired by a person in my own family. Or I should say, the stories I grew up hearing about a person in my family. Like Hana Khan, my family immigrated to Canada from India, and I grew up listening to stories about relatives from ‘back home’ Hyderabad, people I had never met. My mother’s great aunt had a story similar to Kawkab, and this story captured my imagination. Though Kawkab’s personality is made up by me, the story she shares towards the end of the book is inspired by real life events.
Tanaz: As a South Asian myself, biriyani is quite sacred to me, and the idea of a marriage between biriyani and poutine is as scandalous as the idea of love marriage to traditional desi parents from older generations. How did your Hana dream of such a controversial idea?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Biryani poutine is a joke, a made-up dish. I share your sacred respect for biryani – remember my family is from Hyderabad, birthplace of the *best* biryani (yes I’m willing to fight you on this). I thought it would be funny to have Hana enjoy a strange mix of this dish. Poutine is a popular Canadian dish – and Hana is both South Asian and Canadian. Hence, biryani poutine!
Tanaz: Speaking of marriages, most non-POC people often misinterpret arranged marriages as “forced marriages”. It was quite refreshing to see that Hana Khan Carries On clarifies these misconceptions with more realistic experiences of arranged marriages and love marriages in South Asian families. What motivated you to tackle this particular subject in your book?
Uzma Jalaluddin: The stories I write all try to add nuance to stereotypes, while telling an entertaining tale. I truly believe that there are many paths to love, and personally I always felt that “arranged marriage” has been unfairly vilified in the West. I mean, what is a blind date, or a dating app, other than a more sophisticated version of the Aunty-facilitated arranged marriage?
Tanaz: Hana Khan Carries On is the second book you have written. How different, or similar were the challenges you faced while writing this book when compared to your debut novel Ayesha at Last? Is there any particular experience you would like to share with us? What are you most proud of about this book?
Uzma Jalaluddin: I wrote HANA KHAN CARRIES ON a lot faster than I wrote AYESHA AT LAST, so I guess there is something to be said about being on a deadline! They were both difficult to write, because I am a drafter – meaning that my first draft is usually very rough, a sort of ‘director’s cut’ hodgepodge of character and story. I rewrite my books 3-4 times at least, before I figure out what the book is really about. Though HANA KHAN was written in a shorter amount of time, that time felt intense, and I also had the pressure of having written a previous book (AYESHA AT LAST) that had done well and was well loved. I’m really proud of HANA KHAN however. I think it demonstrates my growth as a writer; it’s ambitious, and deals with some tough subjects with honesty and humour.
Tanaz: The romance in Hana Khan Carries On is electrifying. I loved the slow build-up of Hana and Aydin’s relationship, and how you balanced their blossoming love and their individual journeys. What inspired you to write an enemies-turned-friends-turned-lovers romance for this book?
Uzma Jalaluddin: Thank you! Enemies to lovers is my favourite trope. I’m a sucker for it every time, so I wanted to try it myself. My first novel has some of this too, so I guess you could say I’m a massive fan of the slow-burn, enemies to lovers trope. That delicious tension keeps me turning pages.
Tanaz: Another thing that I loved about Hana Khan Carries On was the tightly knitted community she lived in, and her fierce protectiveness of her community. What do you love the most about your community in real life?
Uzma Jalaluddin: My community is very similar to the Golden Crescent, the neighborhood where Hana lives. I grew up near a mosque in the east end of Toronto, and spent a lot of time attending bake sales, study circles, charity events, and sleepovers in this space. It is also where I met many of my good friends. I felt safe and accepted at the mosque, and even though there was the usual political infighting and petty squabbles, my memories are overwhelmingly positive. I wanted to capture that same sense of belonging when I wrote about the fictional Golden Crescent neighborhood.
Tanaz: What’s next for you? And if you already have a project in mind, what can you share with us about it?
Uzma Jalaluddin: I’m working on my third book, but I’m still figuring out the story!
Tanaz: Thank you so much for being with us today Uzma Apu. I truly cannot wait for everyone to read Hana Khan Carries On and fall in love with your story the way I did. Once again, thank you for sharing the stories of our people, thank you for making women like me feel more seen and heard in a world that would rather pretend we did not exist.
Thanks so much for this fun interview. You can find me on twitter @UzmaWrites and on Instagram @UzmaJalaluddin
Get Your Copy Of Hana Khan Carries On Today
About The Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
I am the author of AYESHA AT LAST (2018), a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in a Toronto Muslim community. My second novel HANA KHAN CARRIES ON (2021) is inspired by the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail’ and set in rival halal restaurants. I also write a funny parenting column for The Toronto Star, and have written for The Atlantic. I live in Toronto with my husband and two sons. Find out more at www.uzmajalaluddin.com and thanks for visiting!