2018 Festival of Authors Profile: Arif Anwar

Earlier this year, Arif Anwar’s The Storm was released to immediate international acclaim; it was praised for its ambitious, sprawling narrative that plays out over several decades in its examination of the titular cataclysm’s impact on five different love stories.

What made the novel even more impressive? It was Anwar’s first-ever publication. That’s right: no short story collections, no chapbooks and no contributions in an anthology. And with it, Anwar had already garnered comparisons to celebrated authors like Khaled Hosseini and Rohinton Mistry.

Arif Anwar was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh to parents who were both deeply passionate about the world of writing; his mother is a writer of non-fiction and poetry, and his father is a professor of English literature. Still, Anwar never considered himself much of a writer in his youth. He did, however, share their appetite for reading and credits his father’s ever-expanding library with inspiring and sustaining his immense love for books.

In his youth, Anwar found himself split between the worlds of “prestige” fiction and pulp/genre fiction. He cites Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien as some of his favourite authors, and his novel’s sense of scale is perhaps demonstrable of their impact on his storytelling sensibilities. But rather than follow in their footsteps and write a book explicitly indebted to the horror or fantasy genres, Anwar opted to revisit and relearn the history of his birth country.

While growing up, Anwar never heard many stories about the 1970 Bhola cyclone that killed almost 300,000 people (some estimates even place the death toll closer to 500,000). Despite the catastrophic loss of life, much of what he was taught about Bangladesh’s history was focused on the war that began shortly afterwards. He thus saw an opportunity to tell a story that hadn’t really been explored previously in fiction.

The first chapter of The Storm is a product of his fascination with the cyclone itself and was originally part of an entirely different novel that Anwar gradually lost interest in. Thankfully, after witnessing his classmates’ enthusiastic reaction to the chapter, Anwar resolved to write an entirely new novel with this chapter as the launching point. He would go on to complete the first draft of The Storm within 10 months.

Enjoyed this profile? Anwar will be appearing at the Festival in the Safar: Journeys to South Asia event on October 21 at 3pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

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