Karachi Vice: Life and Death in a Contested City

book cover

My first book is out now! In the first week of February you can hear it on Radio 4’s Book of the Week.

A fast-paced journey around Karachi in the company of those who know the city inside out.

‘I was completely gripped by it’
– Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire

‘Heart-breaking and compelling’
– Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns

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.

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.

The book is available in the UK and Commonwealth. You can buy it from any of these online outlets – or even better, from your local independent bookshop.


“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, the Mail on Sunday (not online)

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'” – the New Internationalist (not online)

“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

  • Sunday 14th February: I discussed Karachi Vice with Caroline Crampton in a Zoom event hosted by the Browser. Recording available here.
  • Wednesday 17th February: I talked to Ben Wilson, author of Metropolis, about the future of cities, as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Recording available here.
  • Saturday 20th February: I talked to the Karachi-based Readerscafe on Facebook Live. Recording available here.
  • Saturday 27th February: For the Jaipur Literary Festival (online this year), I talked to Monisha Rajesh, Taran N. Khan and Jeremy Seal about travel writing. Recording available here (including a terrible technical glitch).
  • Sunday 28th February: Also at the Jaipur Literary Festival, I discussed Karachi Vice with the novelist H. M. Naqvi. Recording available here.
  • Tuesday 2nd March: I talked to Zoe Flood of the Frontline Freelance Register, about Karachi Vice, getting a book deal, and how to make a career in long-form journalism. Recording available here.
  • Friday 12th March: I was in conversation with Pakistani writer Awais Khan, for the Pakistani bookstore chain Liberty Books. Recording available here.
  • Wednesday 26th March, 7pm: I’ll will be talking about Karachi Vice for Wigtown Wednesdays. Registration is free – sign up here.


  • 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.

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