Lahore With Love: Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani Style was published last year by Syracuse University Press, and the fictionalized memoir quickly won praise. Henry Louis Gates Jr. called it "marvelously compelling and endlessly entertaining, at once poignantly personal and richly political."
But you can't order the book from Syracuse. The press pulled the book after learning of legal threats against it from a woman in Pakistan who says that a character is based on her and defames her name. While Syracuse didn't announce that it was yanking Lahore With Love, the press confirmed the action Wednesday after the National Writers Union criticized how the controversy was handled.
Other groups are also criticizing Syracuse. The Drama Review, a journal published by MIT Press (and whose editorial board includes the author of Lahore With Love), has just published an editorial called "Shame on Syracuse University Press" that says the publisher "tucked its tail between its legs and ran away" rather than defending the author. The Drama Review's website also features excepts from some of the letters exchanged about the book.
The author of the book is Fawzia Afzal-Khan, a professor of English and director of women's and gender studies at Montclair State University. She recently self-published the book. And in an interview Wednesday night, she said that she was "shocked" by the way Syracuse treated her book. "I thought that, as my publisher, they would have stood by me," she said.
Alice Randel Pfeiffer, director of Syracuse University Press, said that last year, shortly after the book was published, the press "became aware that a character in Lahore With Love very closely resembled, by name and description, an individual citizen in Pakistan. Upon review, the press found the representation of the character in the book was virtually identical to this citizen, and that the portrayal raised very serious concerns of libel and defamation of character."
Pfeiffer said that Afzal-Khan offered to revise the book, and then withdrew that offer, and that "both parties ultimately chose to end the contract, as often happens when authors and publishers have issues that cannot be resolved." Pfeiffer said that Syracuse "very much recognizes Dr. Afzal-Khan's right to publish her book" elsewhere and wishes her well.
Afzal-Khan disputed several parts of Pfeiffer's account. She said that lawyers with whom she consulted in the United States and Pakistan viewed the legal threat as "very frivolous," and she noted that no lawsuit was ever filed. Further, she said that the book made clear that it was a "highly fictionalized memoir," not a nonfiction autobiography.
Further, she said it was incorrect to say that she agreed with Syracuse's decision to withdraw the book. Afzal-Khan said she had to sign an agreement with Syracuse so she could have the rights to publish the book herself, and that she signed only when Syracuse made it clear that it would no longer distribute the work, and only after months of trying to convince Syracuse that it was not in legal danger by distributing the book.
"To have my publisher do this, a university press do this, is upsetting and shocking and unexpected," she added.