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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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We Are All Refugees: A Conversation With Mohsin Hamid

Earlier this year, Mohsin Hamid’s fourth novel, Exit West, appeared, an ode to a future in which migration is as ordinary as going to school or falling in love. The book, a finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, revolves around the movements of Nadia and Saeed, a young couple from an unnamed country, escaping war. Hamid does not shy away from the realities of conflict, but he also does not dwell on its tragedies.

As they make their way in strange surroundings, untethered from the very things that first created their identities—family, place, nation—Nadia and Saeed experience transformations both subtle and radical. Who are we, Hamid asks repeatedly throughout the book, and what kind of world are we willing to create?

I spoke with Hamid before his appearance at Berlin’s International Literature Festival in early September 2017, where he addressed a packed auditorium. The event occurred shortly before Germany’s national elections, where fear around migration drove the xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to win 12.6 percent of the vote, gaining a projected 94 seats in parliament. People in the capital, at least, were eager to hear Hamid’s non-apocalyptic vision of the future.

But it’s not easy to be an optimist about the future of migration. People trying to move through northern Africa to Europe are ensnared in detention centers in Libya. During Myanmar’s latest ethnic-cleansing campaign, its army planted land mines along the Bangladeshi border. Donald Trump’s new travel ban, announced in late September, would permanently bar citizens of eight countries from entering the United States. Thousands of people are trapped at the edges of countries and at the limits of our compassion.

Defiantly, Hamid posits that the human capacity to survive is stronger than most of us know. At its core, Exit West is about the universality of human experience, and the many migrations we undergo in a lifetime.

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Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

By Monica Arora

Exit WestTitle: Exit West

Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 229
Price: ₹ 599

To Buy

Mohsin Hamid weaves a compelling saga of love, loss, identity-crises, immigration, personal and worldly conflicts and much more in his latest book Exit West. Set in “a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war”, it could be an allegory of any nation such as Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan or another, perched precariously at the brink of civil war yet discovering pockets of peaceful life whilst turmoil lurks nearby. The story revolves around the protagonists Saeed and Nadia, and the reader gets instantly drawn into their world when they meet at “an evening class on corporate identity and product branding” and eventually end up having coffee followed by a Chinese dinner and start the process of getting to discover each other.

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Mohsin Hamid among those shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

American heavyweights Paul Auster and George Saunders are to go head to head for this year’s Man Booker prize, as major names from fiction fall by the wayside for two new faces on the 2017 shortlist.

The prize judges, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, announced their shortlist of six titles on Wednesday morning. Alongside Auster and Saunders, the 29-year-old British debut novelist Fiona Mozley has secured a place in the final line-up, as did American first timer Emily Fridlund. Continue reading


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The Kites Are Leaving

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My children live in the Lahore compound where I spent much of my own childhood, the fourth generation of my family to do so, with members of three of these generations presently alive and resident, including my parents, who built a house on part of the front lawn three decades ago, and my wife and me, who live in the old house, which was constructed three decades earlier. When I was a child, Lahore was home to three million people, and our neighborhood was a leafy, grassy expanse speckled with bungalows. Now Lahore is home to three times as many people, and our nearest neighbors are shopping malls, restaurants, apartment buildings, offices — crammed close together, with little green.

The flying foxes are gone, snakes are rarely to be seen, a mongoose glimpsed only once or twice a year, slipping into the round opening of a drain. We have two dogs, though, and chickens, and we have let our trees grow full and mighty, to block out the concrete structures pressing in on us, and high on one tall tree in our back lawn, far above the treehouse wrapped around lower branches near its base, floats a nest that belongs to a pair of birds of prey that my children call hawks but are in actuality black kites: brown with light and dark markings the color of parched earth and damp soil, patterns like scale armor on their breasts, powerful, hooked beaks and wingspans wide enough to startle, almost equal to the outstretched arms of a man. Read more

Source: New York Times


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Why an increasing amount of South Asian writers are getting picked up by publishers

Gone are the days when readers would look up to international authors who had earlier set a benchmark for sophisticated literature. With Indians picking up more and more desi literature in English off the shelves, the sale of South Asian books has shot up over the decade.

South Asian writers, apart from harking their original, authentic and rooted voice, call for a diverse set of readers who not only relate to the regional synergies, but also crave for elegant storytelling. This is one of the reasons South Asian writing has increasingly become more popular among readers as well as publishers.

Bookshops across India and publishing companies report that readership for South Asian literature is constantly on the rise, making it one of the most popular genres at the moment, the sixth largest in the world and second for the English language. Read more

Source: Times of India


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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, book review: The reader is brought face to face with the realities of war

By Lucy Scholes

With novels like The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid has proved himself a writer able to speak directly of and to the moment. His latest work, Exit West, is no exception. In it he situates a love story amidst the refugee crisis, painting a nuanced portrait of contemporary migration, from the horrors of Western hysteria to what it really means to leave one life behind in the hope of building another.

It begins like any “boy meets girl” story – eyes are locked across a classroom, an invitation to get a drink after class is declined but not rebuffed, accepted a week later, and two young people begin to spend more and more time together. The relative gentleness of this courtship, however, is contrasted against a backdrop of increasing civil unrest. The unnamed Middle Eastern city in which Hamid’s two lovers, Saeed and Nadine, live is on the brink of disaster, “swollen with refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war”, but, as Hamid expertly shows, the slide into conflict, violence and the frightening curtailment of civil liberties happens all too easily. Read more

Source: Independent.co.uk


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On writing women

By Bina Shah

In researching my previous column on the work of Elena Ferrante, I read how certain critics were convinced that the author was actually a man writing under a woman’s pseudonym because she wrote assertively and confidently about the domains of men, especially politics, crime, and violence. In return, Ferrante’s supporters asserted that not only could a woman write well about these domains, but that “only a woman” could know of the secret interior worlds of women and write about them as truthfully and authentically as Ferrante.

Is it possible for a male writer to do the reverse, and describe the life and mind of a female character as well as women writers must do when writing about men? A consensus has emerged amongst women readers and feminist critics of literature that many male writers have not felt obligated to create female characters who are as complex, well-rounded, and three-dimensional as the men. Read more

Source: Dawn


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Shazia Omar

By Farah Ghuznavi

shazia

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Writing is my favourite form of self-torture.  Playing with words is pleasurable, fantasizing plotlines from foreplay to climax is enjoyable, but then… getting the words to convey the plot, now there’s the hair-yanking, teeth-grinding, eye-gouging challenge.  Still, the creative process is exhilarating, and in the end it allows me to share thoughts and ideas with others.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I have published two books this summer with Bloomsbury India. Dark Diamond is a historical fantasy set in 1685 about the Mughal Viceroy of Bengal, Subedar Shayista Khan, who built the Lal Bagh Fort.  I was looking for a time in history that Bengalis could be proud of and a hero who could inspire our youth.  I wanted to look beyond 1971, to remind our youth of our rich, secular, pluralistic past. On another note, I wanted to portray the outer, inner and secret meanings of Islam that come under threat when radical power structures are in place.

Intentional Smile: A Girl’s Guide to Positive Living is a mind, body, spirit book about staying happy and healthy.  It is based on my experience as a yoga instructor and a social psychologist, and a working mother who has struggled with chronic depression.  My co-author, Merrill Khan, is a school counsellor and a life coach.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

In my first novel, Like a Diamond in the Sky, my protagonist was a young junkie who loved rock ‘n roll. Inspired by the Beatniks and folk musicians of America, I tried to simplify and pare down my sentences and paragraphs as much as possible.

The protagonist of Dark Diamond, on the other hand, is a Sufi warrior and swashbuckling hero.  I allowed my writing to be inspired by Sufi poets, but also kept characters like Indiana Jones in mind.

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Refugees Through the Looking Glass in ‘Exit West’

By Sarah Begley

Mohsin Hamid’s new novel imagines migrant escape via magic portals.

Exit West (out March 7) takes place in an unnamed city where Islam prevails but sex, ‘shrooms and smartphones are also prolific. A young couple, Saeed and Nadia, are falling in love even as their city is spiraling into war, with explosions plaguing every neighborhood and “helicopters [filling] the sky like birds startled by a gunshot.” The conflict accelerates the relationship, and soon Saeed and Nadia decide to seek out one of the doors they’ve been hearing about, portals to another, safer part of the planet. Using doorways to exit conflict zones, people (mostly dark-skinned) emerge in Western societies to the surprise of other people (mostly light-skinned) and spark controversy. In refugee camps and squatter dens, the couple must protect themselves from the furious “natives” who are organizing mobs to brutalize these vulnerable new arrivals. Read more

Source: TIME