‘Discpntent And Its Civilizations’ By Mohsin Hamid

Worth reading book review by Jake Lamar.

Whatever Pakistan’s faults, the war on terror only further rent its fragile social fabric. In “Osama bin Laden’s Death,” Hamid writes: “Crowds are justifiably celebrating bin Laden’s death in downtown Manhattan, where a decade ago al-Qaeda terrorists infamously massacred nearly three thousand people. But since the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan, terrorists have killed many times that number of people in Pakistan. Tens of thousands have died in terror and counterterror violence, slain by bombs, bullets, cannons, and drones. America’s 9/11 has given way to Pakistan’s 24/7/365.”

One could say, with no snark intended, that back in the year 2000, twenty-nine-year-old Mohsin Hamid was the ultimate bourgeois bohemian. He had just published a well-received first novel. He lived on lovely Cornelia Street, in a corner of the West Village once inhabited by artists and writers but, by the dawn of the twenty-first century, affordable mainly to investment bankers and management consultants. As it happened, this debut novelist was also a management consultant. And in a deal of sugar-shock sweetness, his employer, McKinsey & Company—famous for overworking its bright young climbers—allowed this graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law three months off per year to write fiction. This guy, as Frank Sinatra might have crooned, had the world on a string, the string around his finger.

But even back then, before the twin towers came tumbling down, Hamid felt the sting of Islamophobia in New York City. In “International Relations,” one of the many superb pieces in his first collection of essays, Discontent and Its Civilizations, Hamid describes how he was made to squirm every time he went to the Italian consulate in Manhattan to receive official clearance to visit his then-girlfriend in her European homeland. Hamid’s passport “runs suspiciously backward, the right-hand cover its front, and above the curved swords of its Urdu lettering . . . reads, ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan.’ Words to make a visa officer tremble.”

For Hamid, life in the Big Apple would turn sour fast. As he writes in another essay: “The 9/11 attacks placed great strain on the hyphen bridging that identity called Muslim-American. As a man not known for frequenting mosques, and not possessing a US passport, I should not have felt it. But I did, deeply. It seemed two halves of myself were suddenly at war.” He arranged to have McKinsey transfer him, indefinitely, to London. All was well there, at least for a while: “Like many Bush-era self-exiles from the United States, I found that London combined much of what first attracted me to New York with a freedom America seemed to have lost in the paranoid years after 9/11.” In London, Hamid met the love of his life: “She and I had been born on the same street in Lahore.” He quit McKinsey. He published his mesmerizing second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which became an internationally acclaimed best seller. Marching with a million other people in Hyde Park to protest the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Hamid thought: “I am one of them. I am a Londoner.”

http://bookforum.com/inprint/021_05/14162

Posted By F.Sheikh