quinta-feira, 12 de março de 2015

Review: ‘Discontent and Its Civilizations’: Mohsin Hamid at Home in Three Lands By Michiko Kakutani



Review: ‘Discontent and Its Civilizations’: Mohsin Hamid at Home in Three Lands

By Michiko Kakutani


The central characters in Mohsin Hamid’s novels are all outsiders, caught on the ever-shifting margins of class, values and national identity — caught between their ambitions and memories, their aspirations and resentments, and finding the lines between the personal and the political, the private and the public continually blurred.
Moth Smoke” used the tale of a romantic triangle to explore the divisions racking Pakistan. “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” took the form of a monologue delivered by a young Princeton-educated Pakistani, whose life and sense of self are rocked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” recounted the journey of an unnamed hero, who leaves an impoverished village in an unnamed country, moves to a big city and makes and loses a fortune.
In his erratic but often compelling new collection of essays, “Discontent and Its Civilizations,” Mr. Hamid addresses many of these same themes — as well as the themes of migration, exile and the relationship between East and West that Salman Rushdie addressed in “Imaginary Homelands” and “Step Across This Line.” When he was younger, Mr. Hamid recalls, he thought of himself as being a migrant and being foreign — “things that made me different, an outsider.” In today’s globalized world, subject to accelerating change and flux, he says, he now thinks of his experiences as “increasingly universal.”
Mr. Hamid writes about his own peregrinations (from Lahore to New York to London and back to Lahore), Pakistan’s fraught relationship with the West in the post-Sept. 11 era, and the frightening, sometimes absurd challenges of daily life there. He writes about deciding to move back to Pakistan with his wife and daughter, after two decades of living in London and New York, and being reintroduced “to a multigenerational daily existence,” occupying an apartment above his parents’ house in Lahore — “three generations at one address, as was the case when I was a child.” He also writes about the frustrations and anxieties of living there, from unreliable Internet service to worrying about getting a haircut because his barber is in Main Market — two letters different from and four kilometers away from Moon Market, where two bombs had recently gone off, killing 42 people and injuring 135.
This volume (which includes some pieces that originally appeared in The New York Times) lacks the layered complexities of Mr. Hamid’s novels — which employ narrative frames and subtle inflections of voice to create added tension and ambiguity. Its strongest entries, however, reflect the same subtleties of thought, laid down in his lapidary, crystalline prose.
The sections on art and writing are, for the most part, banal — predictable musings about whether characters ought to be “likable” or not, and the pleasures of rereading favorite short books. It’s the chapters about Mr. Hamid’s own life and his meditations on Pakistan’s tumultuous recent history that command attention — and call out for a volume of their own.

Like so many characters in his fiction, Mr. Hamid seems to be of two minds about many things — especially the country of his birth. One moment he is lamenting the hazards of life in Pakistan, where death can come in the form of militant terror attacks and American drone strikes, and where one can be killed for “being liberal, for being mystical, for being in politics, the army or the police, or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
At the same time, Mr. Hamid points out, he’s made “an attempt at optimism,” however forced and possibly misguided — so fervent is his belief that “Pakistan is a test bed for pluralism on a globalizing planet that desperately needs more pluralism.” Although he writes that Pakistanis have often been their “own worst enemies,” he says that he’s never believed the role the country frequently “plays as a villain on news shows”: “The Pakistan I knew was the out-of-character Pakistan, Pakistan without its makeup and plastic fangs, a working actor with worn-out shoes, a close family and a hearty laugh.”
Despite its inclusion on lists of failing states, he goes on, Pakistan is “not a basket case,” arguing in one essay that “it has well-established political parties, noisy private media, and an independent-minded supreme court.”
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.”
In what is perhaps the volume’s most impassioned piece, he contends that American drone strikes in Pakistan have had a deeply pernicious effect: they facilitate “the refusal of the Pakistani state and Pakistani society to do more to confront the problem of extremists who threaten Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike.”
The drone attacks, he adds, also fuel the conspiracy theories that thrive in Pakistan — like “the claim that flying robots from an alien power regularly strike down from the skies and kill Pakistani citizens.” In the United States, such a claim would be “science fiction or paranoid survivor cultism of the furthest fringe-dwelling kind,” he notes. “In Pakistan, it is real. And constantly, wrenchingly, in the news.”

DISCONTENT AND ITS CIVILIZATIONS
Dispatches From Lahore, New York, and London
By Mohsin Hamid
226 pages. Riverhead Books. $27.95.

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