Cover image for Discontent and its civilizations : dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
Title:
Discontent and its civilizations : dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
Author:
Hamid, Mohsin, 1971- author.
Uniform Title:
Essays. Selections
Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Hardcover, 2015.
Physical Description:
226 pages ; 21 cm
Summary:
"From "one of his generation's most inventive and gifted writers" (The New York Times), intimate and sharply observed commentary on life, art, politics, and "the war on terror." Mohsin Hamid's brilliant, moving, and extraordinarily clever novels have not only made him an international bestseller, they have earned him a reputation as a "master critic of the modern global condition" (Foreign Policy). His stories are at once timeless and of-the-moment, and his themes are universal: love, language, ambition, power, corruption, religion, family, identity. Here he explores this terrain from a different angle in essays that deftly counterpoise the personal and the political, and are shot through with the same passion, imagination, and breathtaking shifts of perspective that gives his fiction its unmistakable electric charge. A "water lily" who has called three countries on three continents his home-Pakistan, the birthplace to which he returned as a young father; the United States, where he spent his childhood and young adulthood; and Britain, where he married and became a citizen-Hamid writes about overlapping worlds with fluidity and penetrating insight. Whether he is discussing courtship rituals or pop culture, drones or the rhythms of daily life in an extended family compound, he transports us beyond the scarifying headlines of an anxious West and a volatile East, beyond stereotype and assumption, and helps to bring a dazzling diverse global culture within emotional and intellectual reach."--

"From the bestselling author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, an intimate and sharply observed commentary-in-essays on life, art, politics, and "the war on terror.""--
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781594633652
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

From "one of his generation's most inventive and gifted writers" ( The New York Times ) , intimate and sharply observed commentary on life, art, politics, and "the war on terror."
 
Mohsin Hamid's brilliant, moving, and extraordinarily clever novels have not only made him an international bestseller, they have earned him a reputation as a "master critic of the modern global condition" ( Foreign Policy ). His stories are at once timeless and of-the-moment, and his themes are universal: love, language, ambition, power, corruption, religion, family, identity. Here he explores this terrain from a different angle in essays that deftly counterpoise the personal and the political, and are shot through with the same passion, imagination, and breathtaking shifts of perspective that gives his fiction its unmistakable electric charge.
 
A "water lily" who has called three countries on three continents his home--Pakistan, the birthplace to which he returned as a young father; the United States, where he spent his childhood and young adulthood; and Britain, where he married and became a citizen--Hamid writes about overlapping worlds with fluidity and penetrating insight. Whether he is discussing courtship rituals or pop culture, drones or the rhythms of daily life in an extended family compound, he transports us beyond the scarifying headlines of an anxious West and a volatile East, beyond stereotype and assumption, and helps to bring a dazzling diverse global culture within emotional and intellectual reach.


Author Notes

Mohsin Hamid grew up in Lahore, attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School and worked for several years as a management consultant in New York. His first novel, Moth Smoke, was published in ten languages, won a Betty Trask Award, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. His essays and journalism have appeared in Time, the New York Times and the Guardian, among others. His latest novel is The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) published by Penguin. He will be featured at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2015 program. He is the author of Exit West, which in 2018, won the inaugural Aspen Words Literary Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In this wide-ranging collection of previously published essays, novelist Hamid (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, 2014) shares his unique worldview and invites readers to consider the rich complexity of both Western and Pakistani life. Hamid approaches political and literary topics through his years spent living in Lahore, New York, and London. He considers international issues from this three-country perspective as he digs deeply into historical international relationships and reveals how intimately the long-simmering Pakistani/Indian conflict has affected conflicts elsewhere, especially in Afghanistan. But even with such hot-button topics, this is not a foreign policy diatribe. Hamid also engages on a personal level on lighter topics, including ruminations about fatherhood, well-loved books, running, and his struggles with novel writing. The end result is a well-balanced collection that leads readers into the life and work of a truly cosmopolitan man who conveys deeply felt ideas in a manner more reminiscent of a dinner party than the classroom. Smart doesn't begin to describe Hamid; he is the sort of thinker that could change hearts and minds.--Mondor, Colleen Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

This collection of 36 essays will be of most interest to dedicated fans of Pakistani novelist Hamid (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia). Others, however, may be disappointed to find that the pieces, most of which were previously published, tend to be topical and of limited scope. Hamid, who has also lived in New York City and London, provides a voice of reasoned tolerance on the issues dividing the Middle East and the West,, but he might have been better served by writing a memoir. Instead, he offers thoughts on a wide variety of topics, some more rewarding than others: e-books, whether TV dramas are the new good novels, the home-cooked dinner he almost made for Toni Morrison, etc. An essay on President Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo seems out of date; the piece would have benefited from an afterword giving Hamid's view of the speech's lasting significance. The lighthearted essays dilute the impact of the more substantive sections-especially those delving into the so-called clash of civilizations, such as the title essay, in which he writes: "The idea that we fall into civilizations, plural, is merely a politically convenient myth." (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

In this collection of 36 essays, Hamid (How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia) brings together a wide variety of his work, a number of which appeared in print before, that touch on such subjects as international politics, the East-West divide, President Barack Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo, fundamentalism, and nationalism. Other more lighthearted topics: books and reading, the challenges the author faced moving back to Pakistan at a young age, and fatherhood, are also considered. Some of the pieces are more entertaining, others are more thought provoking, but all are eloquently written and richly informed by the author's background in Pakistan, as well as his time spent living in New York and London. That background informs his prose and offers a unique point of view to his audience. For longtime Hamid readers, this is a great compilation for getting reacquainted with his writing or discovering something missed over the years. For new readers, it is an excellent introduction. VERDICT Hamid is an intelligent and impassioned writer whose work deserves a wide readership. Those interested in memoirs, world politics, and cultural and religious differences will enjoy these essays. [See Prepub Alert, 8/4/14.]-Mark Manivong, Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Art and the Other Pakistans (The Ones That Don't Make the Headlines) Looking back, it's obvious to me now that the Pakistan of my teens was bursting with art. I had a burly cousin who used to play (incongruously) with inks and watercolors in the afternoons when he got home from school. I had an aunt who was in the habit of telling over and over again the story of her random encounter with the famous artist Sadequain, an encounter that resulted in him executing what was surely his version of an autograph: a quick drawing depicting my aunt as a Nefertiti-necked goddess holding a flower above a line of calligraphy. I had seen the legendary painter Chughtai's long-eyed ladies smiling out from drawing room walls, offering half-lidded innuendoes to easily flustered young men like me. And I had in the backdrop of my youth the Lahore Museum, the marvelous old city, the trucks and cinema billboards covered in bold, pelvis-thrusting iconography. But at the time, art felt to me like something that belonged either to the past or to other places, because my teens were in the 1980s, and Pakistan in the 1980s had the misfortune of being governed by a mustachioed dictator with dark bags under his eyes and a fondness for dystopian social reengineering. General Zia-ul-Haq claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, and even though the history of Islam in our part of the world stretched back over a thousand years, we were told that our Islam wasn't Islamic enough, indeed that we Muslims weren't Muslim enough, and that he would make of our Pakistan the "land of the pure" that its name suggested--or ruin us all trying. Under Zia, flogging, amputation, and stoning to death became statutory punishments. Acts disrespectful to symbols of Islam were criminalized. Public performances of dance by women were banned. News in Arabic, the language of the Koran but spoken by virtually no one in Pakistan, was given a prime-time slot on television. Thugs belonging to the student wings of religious parties seized control of many college campuses. Heroin and assault rifles flooded the streets, "blowback" from Pakistan's alliance with the United States against the Soviets in Afghanistan. My parents reminisced about how much more liberal Lahore had been in their youth. When General Zia was blown to bits shortly after my seventeenth birthday in 1988, he wasn't mourned, at least not by anyone I knew. I left for college in the United States a year later. There I met people who were studying photography and sculpture, and I myself enrolled in classes on creative writing. Without thinking about it, I supposed an education in these "artistic" pursuits was something in which only affluent societies in the West could afford to invest, or, rather, that only the twin luxuries of material success and tolerance of free expression could provide the sort of soil in which an artistic education could thrive. I was, of course, completely wrong. When I returned to Pakistan in 1993, I was working on what would become my first novel. I thought of writing as a transgressive act. I wrote at night, often from midnight to dawn, and in between writing sessions I would escape into the darkness with my friends. We drove around town in old Japanese cars, hung out on our rooftops, and searched for places beyond the reach of societal control or parental observation. Cheap local booze and even cheaper slabs of hash were the intoxicants of choice in that young urban scene, and avoiding the predations of the bribe-taking police was an alarming and amusing preoccupation. Increasingly I found my wanderings taking me into the world of the National College of Arts. A couple of my friends were enrolled there, one studying architecture, another graphic design. Others were dating students: painters, printmakers. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Students of all social classes, and from all parts of Pakistan, attended NCA. The place was a microcosm of Pakistan, but of a creative Pakistan, an alternative to the desiccated Pakistan General Zia had tried to ram down our throats. Here people who prayed five times a day and people who escaped from their hostels late at night to disappear on sexual adventures in the city could coexist. In the studios I saw calligraphy and nudes, work by students with purely formal concerns, and by others for whom art overlapped with politics. I was inspired. I wrote like crazy. I made friends I have kept for life. Love comes to mind when I think of that time. There was a lot of it going on among the people I hung out with. But I was also falling in love with Pakistan. I have always had a stubborn affection for the land of my birth. When I went abroad for college, I thought I knew it pretty well. But it was my encounters with the denizens of the NCA universe after my return that reminded me that Pakistan is too vast a country to be known, that it is full of surprises, of kinks and twists, of unexpected titillations and empathic connections, of a diversity that can only be described as human. It was exciting and vital and real. Or rather, they were exciting and vital and real--for my Pakistan had become plural. The art, and artists, I found at NCA ushered me into many more Pakistans: the nascent underground music scenes, the emerging film and television scenes, the scenes of writers like myself, and of course the scenes of other art and other artists, not just in Lahore but in Karachi and Islamabad and elsewhere, and not just in 1993 but in the rest of the nineties, the noughties, and now. Just a few months ago I was in Amsterdam with two old friends from the Lahore art world. On a warm summer night we checked out some galleries and walked along the canals, whirring bicycles and shrooming teenagers passing us in the darkness. Nothing could have been more different from where we had all been fifteen years earlier. And nothing could have been more similar, either. (2009) Excerpted from Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London by Mohsin Hamid All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction: My Foreign Correspondencep. 1
Lifep. 13
1 Once Upon a Lifep. 17
Art and the Other Pakistansp. 22
When Updike Saved Me from Morrison (and Myself)p. 27
In Concert, No Touchingp. 30
2 International Relationsp. 35
The Countdownp. 39
A Home for Water Liliesp. 43
3 Down the Tubep. 51
On Fatherhoodp. 55
It Had to Be a Signp. 58
4 Avatar in Lahorep. 65
Don't Angry Mep. 69
Personal and Political Intertwinedp. 77
Artp. 81
5 Pereira Transformsp. 85
My Reluctant Fundamentalistp. 90
6 Rereadingp. 97
Get Fit with Haruki Murakamip. 98
Enduring Love of the Second Personp. 102
7 Are We Too Concerned That Characters Be "Likable"?p. 109
Where Is the Great American Novel by a Woman?p. 112
How Do E-Books Change the Reading Experience?p. 115
Are the New "Golden Age" TV Shows the New Novels?p. 118
Politicsp. 121
8 The Usual Allyp. 125
Divided We Fallp. 127
After Sixty Years, Will Pakistan Be Reborn?p. 131
9 A Beginningp. 139
Fear and Silencep. 143
Feverish and Flooded, Pakistan Can Yet Thrivep. 146
10 Discontent and Its Civilizationsp. 153
Uniting Pakistan's Minority and Majorityp. 157
Osama bin Laden's Deathp. 162
11 Why They Get Pakistan Wrongp. 169
12 Nationalism Should Retire at Sixty-Fivep. 189
To Fight India, We Fought Ourselvesp. 193
13 Why Drones Don't Helpp. 201
14 Islam Is Not a Monolithp. 219
Acknowledgmentsp. 225