Page 1. " Do not be frightened by my beard "
Portrait of a Muslim man
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMuslim man - Credit: Lee Jordan on Flickr

Beards are common amongst Muslim men, who follow the example of the prophet Muhammed in keeping a beard and a trimmed moustache. The beard is seen as an act of faith. As the novel is set in the post-9/11 era, the speaker assumes that the man he is approaching would be wary of him as a Muslim – much anger and suspicion was directed towards Muslims in general around this time.

Beards are common amongst other religions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and early Christianity, and often seen as holy or displays of faith.

Page 1. " purchased in Des Moines "


The State Capitol of Iowa, with its Golden Dome
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe State Capitol of Iowa, with its Golden Dome - Credit: Iqkotze


Des Moines is the largest and capital city of the US state of Iowa. Originally called Fort Des Moines, it was named in 1851 after the Des Moines River. The current population is roughly 203,000, and the city is an important centre in the insurance business.


Page 1. " we have a range of complexions in this country, and yours occurs often among the people of our northwest frontier. "
A Map of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Creative Commons AttributionA Map of Pakistan showing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - Credit: Morwen
A Pashto Girl
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA Pashto Girl - Credit: LloydHawk

The Northwest Frontier, known now as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is one of Pakistan’s four provinces. Its capital is Peshawar, and the main ethnic group is Pashtun, defined racially and physically as Caucasians of the Mediterranean variant. 


Page 2. " the district of Old Anarkali – named, as you may be aware, after a courtesan immured for loving a prince "

Anarkali's Mausoleum in Lahore, Pakistan
Creative Commons AttributionAnarkali's Mausoleum in Lahore, Pakistan - Credit: Muhammed Imran Saeed

Anarkali Bazaar, situated in Lahore, Pakistan, is one of the oldest markets in South Asia. It was named after a nearby mausoleum, in which the courtesan Anarkali was, according to legend, buried alive by Emperor Akbar for having a relationship with his son Salim.

Anarkali Bazaar is divided into two sections – Old Anarkali is famous for its traditional food, whilst New Anarkali is renowed for traditional handicrafts, in particular embroidery.

Page 2. " the quality of its tea, I assure you, is unparalleled. "

Pakistani tea is similar to Indian tea, called masala chai (meaning ‘spiced tea’). Masala chai is made by boiling tea leaves mixed with spices and milk. Other varieties of tea are Kahwah, a kind of green tea grown in the Kashmir Valley, which is brewed with spices including cardamom, saffron, cinnamon and occasionally roses, and served with crushed nuts, sugar and honey. Doodh Pati Chai (‘milk tea’) is dearer than normal chai, and made by brewing tea with a mixture of milk and sugar.

Page 3. " Yes, you are right: it was Princeton! "

Princeton College is one of the eight American Ivy League Universities. Founded in 1746, it is situated in Princeton, New Jersey, and over the last ten years has ranked number one or two amongst national universities in the USA.

Exterior of the Princeton University Chapel
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeExterior of the Princeton University Chapel - Credit: Cocoloco


Page 3. " I looked around me at the Gothic buildings "

Reims Cathedral, Western Facade
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeReims Cathedral, Western Facade - Credit: Bodoklecksel
  Gothic architecture originated in France in the 12th century, spreading throughout Europe and lasting into the 16th century. The style was revived in England in the 18th century, and spread throughout Europe (and, to a lesser extent, other areas of the Western world) where it lasted into the 20th century, latterly only used for churches and universities.


The style was most commonly used for churches, cathedrals and abbeys, and also for important buildings such as palaces, town halls, government and university buildings, and occasionally private homes. Features are towers and spires, arches, vaults, large windows and ornate decorations, particularly gargoyles, all designed to give an impression of might.

Page 5. " guaranteed admission to Harvard Business School "


Harvard Business School, across the Charles River (240 * 133)
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHarvard Business School, across the Charles River - Credit: Joseph Barillari

  Harvard Business School is situated in Boston, Massachusetts. Founded in 1906, it is the graduate business school of Harvard University, and is considered one of the top business schools in the world.


Page 6. " he received us in a room at the Nassau Inn "

The Nassau Inn is one of Princeton’s principal hotels, and the only functioning full service hotel in the city centre.

Page 7. " “Changez?” he said, and I nodded "

Hamid’s selection of ‘Changez’ as his protagonist’s name is often taken to be a thin disguise for ‘changes’, a main theme of the book on both a personal and international level. However, Changez is the Urdu name for Genghis, who was the Mongol emperor famed for his empire-expanding attacks on the Muslim world in the 13th century. This is significant, as with a name like this Changez is unlikely to be a Muslim fundamentalist.

Page 8. " ancient capital of the Punjab "



Topographic map of the Punjab
GNU Free Documentation LicenseTopographic map of the Punjab - Credit: Apuldram

The Punjab is an area of land covering parts of Pakistan and India, including the Pakistani Punjab province, and the Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh. The name is Persian and means ‘Land of Five Waters’ – the rivers Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej all flow through the region. Lahore was the capital of Punjab before it was partitioned, and remains the capital of Pakistani Punjab, while Chandigarh, not far away on the Indian side of the border, is the capital of Indian Punjab.



Page 8. " invaders from the Aryans to the Mongols to the British "


Badshahi Mosque, Lahore (built during the Mongol period)
GNU Free Documentation LicenseBadshahi Mosque, Lahore (built during the Mughal period) - Credit: Ali Imran


The Punjab has a turbulent history, having been invaded, partitioned, reunited and repartitioned more times than can be counted. As a result, many ethnic groups make up the population, the largest being Indo-Aryans.

Alexander the Great invaded in 320BC, which led to a division between the Maurya and Greek Empires. This ruling lasted until around 12BC.

The next foreign reign was of the Mughals, who invaded in the 13th century. Mughal rule was generally regarded as a prosperous and peaceful time, after the initial upheaval of the invasion.

British sovereignty was accepted or forced in the 18th century. At the partition of India in 1947, the area was split into West Punjab (Pakistani) and East Punjab (Indian). After the collapse of the British Raj in 1947, Punjab suffered a severe amount of civil unrest.

Page 11. " Gulberg, one of the most expensive districts of this city "

Gulberg is a residential and commercial district of Lahore, and one of the most upscale areas of the city. The name is a combination of the Persian words ‘gul’ (flower) and ‘bagh’ (open park), as the area used to be famous for its big gardens.

Page 11. " we retain our Punjab Club membership "

The Punjab Club is the most exclusive club in Lahore. Membership is reserved for the elite and is a mark of great prestige and wealth.

Page 14. " Sufi mystics and Zen masters would, I suspect, understand the feeling "

  Sufism is the common name for Muslim mysticism, and its practitioners are Sufis or Dervishes. They believe that it is possible to become close to God in life, rather than only death, and seek to obtain a state of perfection within themselves by sticking closely to the path of God.

Zen masters teach Zen Buddhism, a form of Buddhism which focuses on wisdom in helping to achieve enlightenment. It too aims to achieve a state of perfection in the mind.

Page 15. " using the Concorde for comparison "

Concorde's Final Flight
Public DomainConcorde's Final Flight - Credit: Adrian Pingstone
Concorde was a supersonic passenger airliner, produced as part of an aviation treaty between Britain and France. It first flew in March 1969, was brought into service in 1976 and retired in 2003, as it was no longer economically viable. There were 20 aircraft in total, which made regular transatlantic flights, as well as shorter flights between and throughout Britain and France. The average speed of the Concorde was 2140 km/hour (1334mph), more than twice the speed of an average aeroplane. The average flight time to New York from London was 3.5 hours, as opposed to the average of 8 hours taken by a normal aircraft.

Page 18. " The National College of Arts is not far "

The National College of Arts (NCA) was founded in Lahore in 1875, at that time under the name of the Mayo School of Arts. It is a public college, catering to 450 art and design students of both sexes who come from across Pakistan, and is well established as one of the two major art schools in the country today.

Page 19. " the university’s most prestigious eating club, Ivy "

Colonial Club, one of Princeton's non-selective eating clubs
GNU Free Documentation LicenseColonial Club, one of Princeton's non-selective eating clubs - Credit: Dan Semaya
  Eating clubs are private social clubs found in most American universities, and are particularly legendary at Princeton University. The clubs exist as places for third and fourth year students to eat meals and also use facilities such as common rooms, libraries, billiard rooms and lawns. Whilst three-quarters of upper-year students at Princeton are members of a club, they are private institutions and as such are for those who can afford to be members. Five of the clubs (including the Ivy, the university’s oldest eating club, described in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise) are selective, whereas the other five are non-selective. All of the clubs are open to male and female students.

Page 19. " We assembled in Athens "
The Parthenon by Night
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Parthenon by Night - Credit: Demos


 Athens is the capital city of Greece. It is the country’s largest city and one of the oldest cities in the world, with a history spanning 3,400 years. The city’s most famous monument is the Parthenon on the Acropolis, which rises above the city. There are also several temples and other monuments dating to the time of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Modern-day Athens is a centre of Greek financial, economic and cultural life.

Page 19. " a short T-shirt bearing an image of Chairman Mao "

Chairman Mao (Portrait at Tiananmen Gate)
Creative Commons AttributionChairman Mao (Portrait at Tiananmen Gate) - Credit: Zhang Zhenshi, Richard Fisher on Flickr
 Mao Zedong, known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese revolutionary who helped found the People’s Republic of China. He led the Communist Party of China in the Chinese Civil War, winning victory over Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang forces, and from this defeat in 1949 held authoritarian control over China until his death in 1976. His communist theories are known today as Maoism. He is a controversial figure, held both as an outstanding revolutionary and saviour of the Chinese nation, and responsible for the deaths of millions of people through famine under his regime.

Page 19. " the port city of Piraeus "

Mikrolimano in Piraeus
Creative Commons AttributionMikrolimano in Piraeus - Credit: Templar52, Alaniaris
 Piraeus has existed since the 5th century BC as the port city for Athens, which is located 12km away. It sits on the Saronic Gulf and is the main point of entry for Greece by sea. It is the largest port in Europe and the third largest in the world, with around 20 million passengers passing through it annually.

Page 20. " it is Bryan Adams, ‘Summer of ’69’ "

‘Summer of ’69’ is a song released by the Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams. It appeared on his fourth album, Reckless (1984) and was released as an individual single in June 1985.

Bryan Adams – Summer Of '69

Page 20. " the shattered volcano that is the island of Santorini "

Santorini and Thera Caldera
Public DomainSantorini and Thera Caldera - Credit: Leonard G

 Santorini is a Greek island located in the Aegean Sea around 200km from the mainland. It is part of the Santorini archipelago, and a member of the Cyclades Islands. Santorini is made up of six small islands, located in a roughly circular shape, which were the result of a large volcanic explosion. Only two of these islands, Santorini and Therasia, are inhabited, the principal city of the municipality being Fira. The island today is a very popular tourist destination.