Discontent and Its Civilizations – Pakistan’s place in the world

Sukhdev Sandhu in The Guardian:

MohsinIn 2010, Mohsin Hamid was asked by Granta to contribute to a piece entitled “How to write about Pakistan”. Other poets or novelists might have railed against accounts littered with mullahs, military generals, secret agencies and American drones. Hamid, characteristically droll, drew up a list of 10 commandments of which the first three were: “Must have mangoes”; “Must have maids who serve mangoes”; “Maids must have affairs with man servants who should occasionally steal mangoes.” In Discontent and Its Civilizations, a collection pulling together essays and reviews from the past 15 years, he talks about the way in which Pakistan “plays a recurring role as villain in the horror sub-industry within the news business”. In his eyes, the nation in which he grew up, and to which he returned in 2009 after lengthy stints living in cities on both sides of the Atlantic, is less diabolical; he loves the “out-of-character Pakistan, Pakistan without its makeup and plastic fangs, a working actor with worn-out shoes, a close family, and a hearty laugh”.

…In one essay, Hamid says he’s in “self-exile from the United States”. His reflections on that country are pointed. Discussing “the Great American Novel”, he observes that “‘the’ is needlessly exclusionary, and ‘American’ is unfortunately parochial. The whole, capitalised, seems to speak to a deep and abiding insecurity, perhaps a colonial legacy.” Rather too many pieces – on fatherhood, ebooks, Obama’s election – feel dated or too short. Then again, as he proved in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, brevity has its virtues. Writing about Antonio Tabucchi’s Pereira Maintains, he claims: “Novels are like affairs, and small novels are affairs with less history, affairs that involved just a few glances across a dinner table or a single ride together, unspeaking, on a train, and therefore affairs still electric with potential, still heart-quickening, even after the passage of all these years.” It’s a lovely notion and Discontent and Its Civilizations has just enough others to make it worth spending time with.

More here.