The murder of a Pakistani social media star exposes a culture divided between accelerating modernity and imposed traditional values—and the tragedy of those caught in the middle.
In 2016, Pakistan’s first social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, was murdered in a suspected honor killing. Her death quickly became a media sensation. It was both devastatingly routine and breathtakingly brutal, and in a new media landscape, it couldn’t be ignored.
Qandeel had courted attention and outrage with a talent for self-promotion that earned her comparisons to Kim Kardashian—and made her the constant victim of harassment and death threats. Social media and reality television exist uneasily alongside honor killings and forced marriages in a rapidly, if unevenly, modernizing Pakistan, and Qandeel Baloch’s story became emblematic of the cultural divide.
In this deftly reported and artfully told account, Sanam Maher reconstructs the story of Qandeel’s life and explores the depth and range of her legacy from her impoverished hometown rankled by her infamy, to the aspiring fashion models who follow her footsteps, to the Internet activists resisting the same vicious online misogyny she faced. Maher depicts a society at a crossroads, where women serve as an easy scapegoat for its anxieties and dislocations, and teases apart the intrigue and myth-making of the Qandeel Baloch story to restore the humanity of the woman at its center.
“An exemplary work of investigative journalism … delves into the story of a woman as misunderstood in death as in life.” —PARUL SEHGAL, The New York Times
“[An] intricately wrought work of reportage … a model of how to report on celebrity: by focusing on the seedy characters who feed and exploit it, and by harvesting the details … that more conventional journalists leave behind. Maher has an often thrillingly slant gaze, an eye alert to the absurdities, ironies and small tragedies at play in the manufacture of images and personas. Her book is full of unforgettable scenes and vignettes … a map of the savage underworld we’ve made.” —AMY WALDMAN, The New York Times Book Review
“An immersive and eye-opening account of the 2016 ’honor killing’ of Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media celebrity. . . .Creatively piecing her story together from TV transcripts, social media posts, and interviews … this deeply researched account illuminates the qualities that made her so galvanizing in life as well as death.” —Publishers Weekly
“A breakthrough book, A Woman Like Her bracingly illuminates an increasingly global if yet under-covered phenomenon: the tragic collision between the forged selves of social media and the brute realities of ordinary life. It also describes, with rare intimacy, some profound cultural tumult in a society that is largely known for its political dramas.” —PANKAJ MISHRA, author of Age of Anger
“Only one of Pakistan’s finest young writers could carry weighty themes like honour, fame, and violence with such deliberation and poise.” —FATIMA BHUTTO, author of The Runaways
“In her excavation of the life of the defiant, glamorous Qandeel Baloch, Sanam Maher has put out the highest calibre of investigative journalism, written with tragedy, poetry and passion befitting of its subject.” —MOLLY CRABAPPLE, author of Drawing Blood
“A book about killing that tells us how we live now. Sanam Maher has her ear to the ground and a storyteller’s voice that is intimate and yet soars to the skies.” —MOHAMMED HANIF, author of Red Birds
“A terrific achievement. Sanam Maher’s sensitive, nuanced portrait restores humanity, in all its complexity, to her subject.” —OLIVIA SUDJIC, author of Sympathy
“Written without judgement, without pandering, without reducing its subject to a stereotype, this book is brilliant and terrifying.” —MEENA KANDASAMY, author of When I Hit You
“Qandeel was a marvellous blaze. She set our dark world on fire and made enough light to expose the hypocrisies of Pakistan’s pious patriarchy. In Sanam Maher’s terrific and necessary book, these flames burn brighter than ever.” —SONIA FALEIRO, author of The Girl