Khanís novel takes place briefly in America, but more directly in Pakistan in the mid-eighties to the early nineties, through the civil unrest that plagues Pakistan and the public reaction to the Gulf War. A bloody past still plagues the citizens, history spooling in reverse; the characters sharing a linked history that, in the end, is self-explanatory and tragic.
Through the viewpoints of three main protagonists - Dia, Daanish and Salaamat - a forbidden love unfolds. Dia, heiress to a silk factory whose father was gruesomely murdered, succumbs to the charms of Daanish, a young man recently returned from America to attend his fatherís funeral services.
Dannish is drawn to Dia, both of them unaware that a natural enmity exists between their two families. The lovers-to-be meet innocently enough, Dia accompanying her friend, Nini, to Dannishís home, where his fatherís funeral rites are being observed. Although her friendís mother has begun marriage negotiations with the widow for her son, the lovers meet secretly, often closely observed by Salaamat.
A young man who has wandered from one occupation to another, Salaamat represents the dispossessed, the throwaway who nurtures his own dreams, propelled by events beyond his control, easy prey for opportunists and symbolic of the strife that has invaded his country. These protagonists are buffeted by political events and social constructs, their brief hours of rule-breaking shattered by reality and the difficult choices of a land in flux.
Contrasting lifestyles and class differences, Khanís Pakistan clings to tradition yet is riddled by political upheaval, citizens carving out ordinary lives in extraordinary times. The author clarifies the reaction of such countries to American foreign policy, the constantly changing political climate in Pakistan reflecting its internal problems, but also the reaction of citizens to world events.
Real politics play out in the daily lives of Dia, Daanish and Salaamat; while dealing with personal issues they are greatly affected by their political environment, their attitudes shaped by an inability to control their destinies. Like their extended families, they are often embittered by a lack of stability and economic resources.
Clinging to tradition for a semblance of normalcy, the characters are caught in a web of confusion, bred in part by exposure to a vastly different Western culture. Imbued with mythical proportions, America is stripped of the very individuality that so humanizes the characters in the novel.