An acclaimed novelist reports on peril, war and peace.
After three novels, Hamid (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, 2013, etc.) gathers 36 short pieces of nonfiction published in the last 14 years: some, ephemeral essays about life and art; others, trenchant reports from Pakistan, where, after decades in New York and London, the Pakistani-born author now lives. Hamid hopes that “the fragmentary and ‘of the moment’ nature of the pieces” reveal “a different type of honesty than a book that is conceived as a whole and executed as a single effort.” Although honest and candid, the collection is uneven, with astute essays about politics weakened by slight opinion pieces on fatherhood, reading and writing. He muses, for example, on his experience reading e-books; bristles at the idea of “the Great American Novel by a Woman” (“ ‘the’ is needlessly exclusionary, and ‘American’ is unfortunately parochial”); and wonders if “the widespread longing for likable characters” reflects a desire “to not be entirely alone.” As a cultural observer, the author takes the perspective of “a correspondent who cannot help but be foreign, at least in part,” an experience that, in the age of globalization, seems to him “increasingly universal.” That perspective informs his analysis of Pakistan’s politics, complex religious tensions, endemic poverty, fraught international relationships and future, about which he is justifiably anxious. Pakistan, he wrote in 2012, on the nation’s 65th birthday, “is meddling in the affairs of neighbors, victimizing marginalized ethnic and religious groups, and building nuclear weapons while citizens go without electricity.” Small-minded nationalism, he warns, will undermine the concept of shared humanity; instead, he advocates that Pakistan widen its view to include “a blurring and reconceiving of national boundaries,” an “embrace of cross-border autonomous zones,” and a revision of the nation’s self-image “as a pawn in someone else’s game.”
Passion and hope infuse Hamid’s most incisive dispatches.