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Mohsin Hamid: ‘If you want to see what tribalism will do to the west, look at Pakistan’

Mohsin Hamid is depressed. The novelist, twice nominated for the Man Booker prize, has seen the three places he calls home – Pakistan, America and Europe – betray their fundamental ideals and become increasingly unwelcoming.

In Pakistan, where he was born, the elected government caved in to a mob of extremist protesters by sacking a minister they accused, essentially, of being a bad Muslim. In a country created as a homeland for south Asia’s Muslims, the fight over who fits that bill means hardly anyone is safe from unfounded accusations of blasphemy. Students have been lynched arbitrarily and, in 2011, the governor, Salman Taseer, was shot for criticising the blasphemy laws. To Hamid, the stunning capitulation to the mob signals the breakdown of an uneasy coexistence between the government, the military and the courts, allowing “raw power” to rule.

“These are incredibly disheartening times. I feel more depressed than I have in a long time about the political direction of Pakistan,” says Hamid at his home in Lahore, where he now lives with his wife and two children. “Since Pakistan was founded in 1947, there has been a conflict between the notion that citizens are equal, and that certain people can ascribe to themselves the right to decide who is Muslim,” he says. “The question is: who is Muslim enough? And 70 years after creation, the answer is that nobody is Muslim enough.”

But Pakistan is not alone in narrowing definitions of who belongs. Hamid thinks western countries that tout principles of equality fail one group in particular: migrants.

That is the topic of his recent novel Exit West, a story of desperation, love and, ultimately, liberation, which won him a second Man Booker shortlisting this year following that for The Reluctant Fundamentalist in 2007.

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AFCC Asian Children’s Book Award shortlists Writers, Illustrators, and Translators of the Best Picture Book in Asia

The shortlist for the 2017 AFCC Asian Children’s Book Award by Genting Singapore (ACBA) was announced on Tuesday by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (the Book Council) at the Makan & Mingle event. ACBA is a joint initiative between the Book Council and Genting Singapore, a Singapore-based regional leisure, hospitality and integrated resorts development specialist.

This is a new award presented to an outstanding published picture book with distinct Asian themes by a writer, illustrator, and translator team of Asian descent living in Asia. The writer, illustrator, and translator of the winning book will each receive a $10,000 cash prize. In the case of the winning title not being officially translated, the $10,000 translator prize will instead be used as grant for the publisher of the winning work to commission and publish a translation of the book.

Ms Claire Chiang, Chairperson of the NBDCS Executive Committee said, “Translation is very important to the Book Council. Asia is such a wide and diverse place with varied people and myriad languages, and reading each other’s stories is the first step in understanding each other. We are happy to have Genting Singapore as our partner for this award, and are delighted that recognizing great Asian picture books is important to them as well.”

There were a total of 245 entries from all over Asia, the most for any Book Council award in its awards programme history, including Bangladesh, Singapore, the Philippines, Lebanon, China, Thailand, Russia, India, Syria, and Malaysia. The judges have selected six titles for the shortlist.

Mr Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong-based author of numerous children’s books, and Chief Judge of the 2017 ACBA, says, “The entries were excellent and we judges had a tough job trying to choose only six titles for the shortlist. In the past, books for young readers in this region tended to be folk tale collections with art in dated styles. But this year, the competition has drawn beautiful books with stunning artwork and original, imaginative stories which really transport the reader to new worlds.”

His fellow judges on the panel are: Mr James Mayhew, award-winning author and illustrator from the United Kingdom; Mr Lee Kow Fong, Singaporean author and illustrator; Ms Petra Nagyová Džerengová, author and publisher from Slovakia; and Ms Nanami Kasasaki, Senior Vice President, Genting Singapore Corporate Planning.

The winner of the 2017 ACBA will be announced during Indonesia Night of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) on 19 May, and will be presented by the evening’s Guest-of-Honour, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

The Shortlist:


Name Title Country
J.H. Low Night in the Gardens Singapore
Hsin-Yu Sun Home Taiwan

Adeline Foo and Beth Parrocha


Tiny Feet, Tiny Shoes

Singapore/ Philippines
Chiki Kikuchi Chikibam Meow Japan

Eve Aw and Tan Yun Ru

Grandma and Things that Stay the Same  


Nari Hong Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! South Korea

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Toni Morrison in India

This house where I sit, a few white clouds framed by my window, is in Provincetown in Cape Cod, and belonged to Norman Mailer. It’s now been turned into a writers’ colony. Every year, during the summer, writers gather here. I have been teaching a workshop on finding your voice on the page.

A book that I read recently, and which represents the achievement of voice, is Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home. A short novel, hardly 150 pages long, it is the distillation of a lifetime of writing practice. Here is a voice that records violence in brief, brutal detail, and then, in a testament to human survival, finds honey in the rock.

Frank Money is Morrison’s protagonist in Home. He has survived, if only barely, the Korean War and come back to his segregated motherland. Each page reveals the shock of living in a society built on the exploitation of blacks. Reading the book at a time when the White House is occupied by a black president further heightens the pain of these discoveries instead of assuaging it. And yet, as steady as the cruel blows, are the comforts of community. The strength of conscience. The tender spark of love.

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