Alsam moved with his family to England aged 14, when his father, a Communist, fled President Zia's regime. The family settled in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. He later studied biochemistry at the University of Manchester, but left in his third year to become a writer.
At 13, Aslam published his first short story in Urdu in a Pakistani newspaper.
His debut novel, Season of the Rainbirds (1993), set in rural Pakistan, won the Betty Trask and the Author's Club First Novel Award.
He won widespread praise for his next novel Maps for Lost Lovers (2004) which is set in the midst of an immigrant Pakistani community in an English town in the north. The novel took him more than a decade to complete, and won the Kiriyama Prize.
Aslam's latest novel, The Wasted Vigil, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in September, 2008. It is set in Afghanistan. He traveled to Afghanistan during the writing of the book; but had never visited the country before writing the first draft.
As writers he admires he has mentioned Vasko Popa, Ivan V. Lalic, Czes?aw Mi?osz, Wislawa Szymborska, Herman Melville, John Berger, VS Naipaul, Michael Ondaatje, and Bruno Schulz.
His writings have been compared to those by Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Kiran Desai and received an Encore in 2005. He writes his drafts in longhand and prefers extreme isolation when working.