Karachi Vice

Life and Death in a Contested City

Karachi Vice is my first book: a fast-paced journey around Karachi in the company of those who know the city inside out.

You can hear an abridged version on Radio 4’s Book of the Week

BUY: UK version | US version

Karachi. Pakistan’s largest city is a sprawling metropolis of 20 million people. It is a place of political turbulence in which those who have power wield it with brutal and partisan force, a place in which it pays to have friends in the right places and to avoid making deadly enemies. It is a society where lavish wealth and absolute poverty live side by side, and where the lines between idealism and corruption can quickly blur.

‘I was completely gripped by it.’

Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire

It takes an insider to know where is safe, who to trust, and what makes Karachi tick, and in this book, my debut, I explore the city in the company of a handful of Karachiites. Among them is Safdar the ambulance driver, who knows the city’s streets and shortcuts intimately and will stop at nothing to help his fellow citizens. There is Parveen, the activist whose outspoken views on injustice corruption repeatedly lead her towards danger. And there is Zille, the hardened journalist whose commitment to getting the best scoops puts him at increasing risk. As their individual experiences unfold, the book tells the bigger story of Karachi over the past decade: a period in which the Taliban arrive in Pakistan, adding to the daily perils for its residents and pushing their city into the international spotlight.

‘Heart-breaking and compelling.’

Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns


“A brilliant portrait of a complex place … In some senses, the book is like a novel; each character is so beautifully drawn that we are in their heads with ease, though that is often a hard place to be.”
—Razia Iqbal, Mail on Sunday (print only)

Karachi Vice meticulously constructs a vibrant mosaic of a city’s underbelly … Samira Shackle’s prose is nimble and propulsive, as she expertly combines interview, anecdote and reportage with in-depth sociopolitical analysis.”
Rabeea Saleem, Times Literary Supplement

“This is a sensitive and elegantly constructed book, which offers a moving snapshot of a restless city and its resilient citizens.”
Saba Ahmed, Prospect

“Memory serves an important function in this work of literary nonfiction, where Shackle vividly reconstructs the past experiences of her subjects by immersing herself in their daily lives, languages and customs, without exoticising the experience.”
Ali Bhutto, the Spectator

“Ms Shackle [sees] her city largely through the eyes of good people trying to make a terrible situation better. It is a moving account of the struggles of everyday heroes—and of the unhappy metropolis that needs them.”
The Economist

“Shackle excels at drawing out the incisive quote.”
Abhrajyoti Chakraborty, Guardian

“Shackle expertly and empathetically leads the reader in … the book reveals a city, a people – and through them a country – with tremendous poise and the skills of a fastidious reporter.”
Memphis Barker, Daily Telegraph

“Samira Shackle writes with immediacy and passion… her compelling narrative is both educative and moving and leaves the reader with greater understanding and enhanced empathy with the citizens of this intriguing, damaged, beguiling ‘contested city’”
New Internationalist (print only)

“In her powerful narrative non-fiction debut… Shackle weaves Karachi’s turbulent history of political unrest and ethnic divisions around quiet acts of humanity – revealing the city’s bruised but resilient spirit.”
New Statesman


  • The Briefing (Monocle radio): I discussed Karachi Vice with Andrew Mueller – on from around 21m on this podcast.
  • Free Thinking (BBC Radio 3): Listen to me talking Karachi, infrastructure, and the rising power of China in Pakistan, with Majed Akhter, Ejaz Haider and Rana Mitter – it’s online, here.
  • The Prospect Interview: I had a great conversation with Sameer Rahim of Prospect magazine about the book. Listen here.
  • Five Books: I was thrilled to have the chance to talk to Cal Flyn of Five Books about narrative non-fiction, and to recommend my favourites in the genre. You can read the interview here.
  • The Bookseller: Nuray Bulbul interviewed me about the process of writing and researching Karachi Vice, and my career more generally. It’s online here (behind a paywall).
  • Always Take Notes: I enjoyed speaking to Simon Akam and Rachel Lloyd about Karachi Vice, and more generally getting into the nitty gritty of reporting. Listen here.