When art is overtaken by world events
This article is from 2007.
‘Write about what you know’ is perhaps the most cogent piece of advice given to aspiring authors. Pakistan-born, Harvard-educated novelist Mohsin Hamid set out to do just that with his follow-up to the critically acclaimed Moth Smoke, penning a book about – you guessed it – a Pakistan-born, Harvard-educated young man who falls in love with an American woman right at the beginning of the 21st century. ‘I originally wrote the novel that became The Reluctant Fundamentalist pre-11 September, and it would have looked strange if I hadn’t taken on those events by using them as a backdrop,’ he says. ‘That’s the pitfall of writing a novel with a contemporary setting; the events can very easily overwhelm the characters.’
The novel’s arresting opening scene takes place in a Lahore restaurant during the course of an evening in which a bearded Pakistani named Changez describes to an ill-at-ease American how he came to abandon his once beloved United States for radical Islam. ‘The premise allowed me to have the form of the novel reflect its themes; it’s literally a conversation between two cultures,’ says Hamid. ‘I come from a country where people don’t read much, and this novel is my way of trying to appeal to people who are otherwise not engaged with books.’ (Allan Radcliffe)
Recommended Reading: Moth Smoke evokes the anxieties of modern life in Pakistan.
22 Aug (with Ed Husain), 6pm, £5 (£3).