Hybrid Beings


Jill Dehnert reviews's Mohsin Hamid's Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London in The Brooklyn Rail:

While I read Discontent and Its Civilizations, one thought occurred to me over and over again: this book is essential. In the introduction, Hamid says, “I wanted the experience of reading this book to be like developing a relationship.” And at this, he is most successful. The structure of the book is such that we get to know the author and his thoughts on life, art, and politics in a way that mimics the development of a friendship; we learn about his life as a child, how he met his wife, his struggles and successes as a novelist, as well as his opinions on global politics. And because we get to know Hamid, we also come to trust him, to trust his opinions, and to value his view of the world. This is especially effective throughout the third section of the book, “Politics,” where Hamid investigates the failed governmental systems in Pakistan, Asia, and throughout the world.

It is exactly because Hamid has “tried to advocate the blurring of boundaries: not just between civilizations or people of different ‘groups,’ but also between writer and reader,” that Discontent and Its Civilizations feels important and urgent. Each essay seems like we are merely having a conversation with a good friend, and, as with any good conversation there is an element of self-reflection that occurs. So, even though Hamid doesn’t spend too much time directly addressing racial tension in America, I found myself reflecting on our contemporary moment in the United States, where recent racial conflict and upheaval, like Ferguson, have highlighted that we, as a nation, have not come as far as we may have thought. “A country should be judged,” Hamid says, “by how it treats its minorities.” Here he is talking about the gross and often deadly discrimination religious minorities face in Pakistan everyday. But it isn’t hard to imagine how the United States would fare under such scrutiny.

More here.