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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


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Mohsin Hamid on the migrants in all of us

Mohsin Hamid, novelist.

Your story in this week’s issue, “Of Windows and Doors,” takes place in a country descending into civil war. As is often the case in your fiction, both the city in which the story is set and the country are never named. How did you map out the city? Do you think that readers will put a name to this place?

I used Lahore, the city where I live, as a starting point for the city. And yes, readers are free to put names to this nameless place, if they wish. I often leave gaps in my writing, spaces for readers to fill in, areas left open to be co-imagined. I used namelessness here in part because I couldn’t bear to do to Lahore and Pakistan what happens to the city and country in this story, and in part because this could be a story of many other cities, and in part because we live in a world of extreme censorship and so namelessness is a way of drawing attention to the existence of what cannot be said, is not being said.

The story is taken from your forthcoming novel, “Exit West,” which is published next March. In the novel, as in the story, the two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, have only recently begun dating. How does the onset of violence alter the trajectory of a relationship such as theirs?

I think dramatic events can sometimes enhance the drama of our own romances, make the ordinary seem extraordinary, at least for a while. Like falling for someone on the last day of a holiday, as they are about to leave for the airport. In the case of Nadia and Saeed, the violence around them accelerates and intensifies their relationship. They meet, they’re intrigued by each other, they come closer, and then suddenly they are bound together, very early in their relationship, in a time of great turmoil. They begin to act almost like they are married, because all around them the world has become so devastating. What happens when the violence ceases, though, is another matter. Read more


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Five Books By Pakistani Writers That Deserve To Be Celebrated More Often

It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine, for instance, the history of literary fiction in English coming out of India and its neighbouring countries without paying close attention to Pakistan. From Mohammed Hanif to Moni Mohsin, Fatima Bhutto to Ali Sethi, Nadeem Aslam to Mohsin Hamid, the list of writers based in Pakistan, or of Pakistani origin, is diverse and distinguished. But these five that follow deserve a special mention, simply because their understated charm and power to delight are not celebrated often enough — or as much as they should be.

The Crow Eaters, Bapsi Sidhwa

One of the funniest novels by a Pakistani writer, The Crow Eaters was Sidhwa’s first published book. Set in the early years of the 20th century, it tells the story of Freddy Junglewalla, who moves his family — his pregnant wife, baby daughter and irritable mother-in-law — from their ancestral home, somewhere in the hinterland of Pakistan, to the glittering cosmopolis of Lahore.

In the city, he embarks on a successful venture, but as Freddy’s fortunes grow, so does his bickering with his mother-in-law, the domineering Jerbanoo. Written in faux-elegant British English, every sentence of this large-hearted novel is laced with wit. An endearing portrait of the Parsees in Pakistan, this is a gripping read from the beginning till the end.

The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad

A quiet but haunting debut, this collection of stories by a Pakistani civil servant who spent several years in Baluchistan was much acclaimed for its delicate realism. The characters — poor peasants, tribal lords — are drawn vividly from life and are usually the stuff of news reports coming out this region. Ahmad brought these figures to life with poetic brushstrokes and in his unfailingly controlled prose.

Written over a period of time, the stories were retrieved from his drawer and published in this volume when Ahmad was in his 70s. The collection was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize, one of Asia’s most prestigious literary awards, in 2011. Read more