Mohsin Hamid: ‘It’s important not to live one’s life gazing towards the future’
(From The Guardian. Link to the complete interview given below)
Mohsin Hamid appears to have a preternatural ability to summon up the spirits of his time. He finished writing his latest novel, Exit West, which was published early last year and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, well before Trump and Brexit brought questions of borders and national identity to the forefront of the global narrative. The novel was in part a response to the migrant crisis that was unfolding in various corners of the world as Hamid was writing, but it also predicted with almost uncanny prescience the rise of nativist paranoia and racial intolerance, which have become such features of life in 2018.
The novelist Kamila Shamsie, a friend of Hamid, told me another story about his proleptic powers. “On September 9 or 10, 2001, I was having dinner with Mohsin in London and he told me about the book he was working on,” Shamsie said. “It was about a young Pakistani man doing very well in the corporate world in New York. Despite all his success, one day he found himself listening closely to a speech by an extremist Muslim – it wasn’t the religious content of the man’s words that caught his attention, but the political content. I saw Mohsin again on September 12, 2001. ‘Mohsin, your novel… ?’ I said. ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I think I have to go on writing it.’ ‘Of course you do,’ I said.”
That novel, Hamid’s second book, became The Reluctant Fundamentalist and was seen by many as the definitive literary response to 9/11. Certainly it was far more successful both critically and commercially than the attempts of more established authors to address the twin towers. John Updike, Martin Amis, Don DeLillo – the great and good of Anglo-American letters queued up to respond to the attacks, but it was Hamid’s protagonist Changez, bursting with charisma and ambition, who spoke with the greatest clarity and authority about what might have driven the terrorists to act.