Shariff-Zia grew up in Nairobi, a tomboy who climbed trees and was always getting into trouble. She is the fifth generation of an Indian family who moved to Kenya from Gujarat. She attended Loreto Convent Msongari, a convent school run by Irish nuns. The author grew up speaking English, Gujarati and Swahili.
At nineteen, she moved to Texas to study Literature at Rice University. After an M.A.in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, she went back to Kenya to work at the Aga Khan Education System. Moving back to New York, she became a Wall Street reporter covering chemicals and finance.
After living in Nairobi, Kampala, Karachi, Toronto, Cincinnati and Miami among other cities she has settled in New York with her family. She teaches English at the Bronx Community College. This is her first novel.