Mohsin Hamid

This article is from 2007.

Mohsin Hamid

When art is overtaken by world events

‘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).

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