Wednesday, April 18, 2007



Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid’s new novel, his second, has hit the No 1 spot on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. This, according to the New York Times, happened “virtually the moment it was published in this country.”
In an interview with the newspaper, Hamid, who comes from Lahore but lives in London, said that he may now be able to quit his job as a consultant with a branding firm in London. Asked if it is fair to describe the novel as a Muslim’s critique of American values, he replied, “That’s oversimplifying. The novel is a love song to America as much as it is a critique.”

Told by the interviewer that he did not find it “so loving” as it takes place on a single evening at a cafe in Lahore, as a charming, well-educated Pakistani in his 20s recounts his life story to an unnamed American stranger, who seems suspicious of him, Hamid replied, “The American is acting as if the Pakistani man is a Muslim fundamentalist because of how he looks - he has a beard.” The author in real life has a beard.
Told that the Pakistani narrator of the story also brings certain fears and preconceptions to their conversation and in an act of reverse ethnic profiling, he suspects the American to be an undercover agent who might arrest him, the author replied, “Yes. But he could be just as freaked out as the rest of us are in this world when we see an American with that kind of build and imagine he is a CIA agent. The novel is not supposed to have a correct answer. It’s a mirror. It really is just a conversation, and different people will read it in different ways.”

Asked by the interviewer if he, an American, could also be a CIA agent as their conversation, as in the novel, was taking place between an American listener and a Pakistani man with a beard, Hamid answered, “If you had short hair and a bulge in your jacket, I might assume you were.” When told that it was “unsettling” to learn that Hamid’s protagonist felt a rush of genuine pleasure when the World Trade towers were attacked, the author replied, “Some part of him has a desire to see America harmed. In much of the world, there is resentment toward America, and the notion that the superpower could be humiliated or humbled or damaged in this way is something that gives satisfaction.”
Asked if that was how he felt when the twin towers were attacked, Hamid replied, “No. I was devastated. A wall had suddenly come up between my American and Muslim worlds. The novel is my attempt to reconnect those divided worlds.”
When reminded that much like the narrator in ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist,’ Mohsin Hamid grew up in and was educated at Princeton, he replied, “I was one of two or three Pakistanis in the class of ’93, and I didn’t feel homesick for a second. I took two writing workshops with , and I wrote the first draft of my first novel in a long-fiction workshop with , both of whom encouraged me.” He said in answer to another question that from Princeton, he had gone to the Harvard Law School but decided that he did not want to be a lawyer because “it bored the pants off of me”.

Reminded that the only one who speaks in the novel is the Pakistani, while the American is silenced, Hamid answered, “For me, in the world of media, particularly the American media, it’s almost always the other way around.”

When told that no one is silencing him as he goes on a book tour across America and his book has already sold 100,00 copies, the author replied, “But there are not many of us from the Muslim world who are getting heard over here. And the ones who are mostly seem to be speaking in grainy videos from caves.”