By Mohsin Hamid. Grade: A
To quote what Michiko Kakutani from The New York Times has to say about the book -“Often compelling … It’s strongest entries reflect the same subtleties of thought [as his novels], laid down in his lapidary, crystalline prose. … The chapters about Mr. Hamid’s own life and its meditations on Pakistan’s tumultuous recent history … command attention — and call out for a volume of their own.”
From the author of the novels Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, this book here is an essential series of dispatches from the East, the West and the In Between.
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.
His book deals with the ordinary yet inextricably entwined world with utmost simplicity and honesty that is endearing. It covers the multiforal reminiscences of his life where in he travels from one country to the other, juxtaposes the political with the personal and presents a vivid and eclectic world where the East and the West make a surreal backdrop to his journey.
Discontent and its Civilizations is a collection of 36 essays, divided into three sections, and together tells the tale of an individual discovering and re-discovering life in all its beauty and ugliness. He describes the sense of moral deprivation, the feeling of being lost at sea, post the horrendous terrorist attacks- “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 an American passport, I should not have felt it. But I did, deeply. It seemed two halves of myself were suddenly at war.”
Mohsin’s writing, driven with an innate wisdom and deep understanding of the political mud waters of the world, is exciting and expansive, amassing a lot of insight into the modern representation of the world, where he wishes for more pluralism within borders and manages to see the good in this drastic drive called globalization. So fervent is his belief, he goes on to say that “Pakistan is a test bed for pluralism on a globalizing planet that desperately needs more pluralism.” His entries are poignant and creative; being the cultural commentaries that they are, show Pakistan in its past and present, beautifully entwined in hamid’s reverie. His essays take us on a journey from the lanes of Pakistan to the parks in London with equal ease.
When it comes to Pakistan’s relationship with the United States, Mr. Hamid is blunt and to the point. In a 2011 piece, he writes that the alliance between the United States and the Pakistan military (comprising mutual need, suspicion and financial dependence) remains “a relationship between parties viewing one another through gun sights” — “each side blames the other for putting its citizens in grave danger, and each is correct to do so.” The ART section of the book is a particular favorite, the lucid words combined with deep insight into the everyday humdrum, make a compelling case for recognizing our common humanity while relishing our diversity — both as readers and citizens.