Talent@Lahore: Mohsin Hamid

Talent@Lahore is a series in which I will talk about the talent, the aptitude, and sheer brilliance of various personalities hailing from Lahore

This is the first installment of Talent@Lahore series, and we are going to talk about a 36 years old writer whose work has been translated in 20 languages, adapted for TV as well as an Italian operetta, and who has (most recently) been short listed among 5 other candidates from around the world for the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction in 2007 – one of the most renowned literary awards in the world.

Mohsin Hamid takes over the throne of immensely rich literary heritage of Lahore, the only difference being that he writes in English not Urdu, yet remains very much in touch with all things Desi. Born in 1971, Mohsin went on to attend Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and worked as a management consultant in New York and a freelance journalist in Lahore, before moving to London. His claim to fame, however, are his two novels of international acclaim, both set in the backdrop of the city of Lahore.

For literary buffs in Pakistan, Mohsin Hamid would not be a stranger, mainly due to his first novel “Moth Smoke”. Published in the year 2000, the novel tells the story of a young man and his uneasy and complicated life on the fringes of Lahore’s elite, subsequent to him getting fired from his job at a bank. As soon as it was published, Moth Smoke started to receive positive node from literary circles across the world – something not very common for a predominently “local” novel. It went on to become New York Times notable book of the year and received reviews such as the following:

‘A first novel of remarkable wit, poise, profundity, and strangeness… Hamid is a writer of gorgeous, lush prose and superb dialogue… Moth Smoke is a treat’ — Esquire

‘Moth Smoke is both an irresistibly engaging adventure and a searching portrait of contemporary young people in Pakistan… The voice of the novel is its triumph, however: confiding, witty, self-lacerating, arrogant and humble, and unfailingly convincing’ — Joyce Carol Oates

The story of Moth Smoke also appeared as a television mini-series in Pakistan (which was very poorly made) and as an operetta in Italy (which I haven’t seen).

Seven years after Moth Smoke, in 2007, Mohsin came back with his second novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”. In September 2007, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted as one of the top 6 books of the year to be considered for Booker Prize for fiction. Mohsin is the youngest writer this year to be shortlisted for this prize that comes with an award of 50,000 Pounds.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist explores the conflict experienced by an intelligent young man from Lahore who attends an elite university in US, works with a prestigious Wall Street organization and falls in love with an American woman, while at the same time dealing with a sense of uneasiness he feels with his imperialistic occupation, a discomfort enhanced first by the events in his home town Lahore, where Pakistan is at the brink of a war with India, and then the events in New York in the aftermath of 9/11.

This is what the Daily Telegraph had to say for this novel

‘An impressively intelligent thriller… a microcosm of the cankerous suspicion between East and West. But, more than that, it is a piece of technically accomplished writing that entertains at the same time as it makes you think.’

The entire novel is written in a single monologue, set at the backdrop of a small roadside cafe in Lahore’s Anarkali bazaar. The novel has been translated in 20 languages so far.

Whether or not one agrees with Mohsin’s political and socio-political views, or how various characters feel and act in his novels, one feels no reluctance in admiring the quality of craft, the art that comes freely and flowingly in his novels. Whether or not Mohsin goes on to win the Booker Prize this year, we can be assured of much more to come from this writer of immense talent as well as potential.

Besides novels, Mohsin routinely writes articles for publications such as New York Times, Washington Post, and Time magazine. You can visit Mohsin’s Website to take a look at his career, find excerpts from interviews and a number of articles written by the writer.

His books can be found at all major book stores in Pakistan. You can also buy them online if you live outside Pakistan.

2007 Booker Prize will be announced on Oct 16, 2007. Keep an eye on this link for details.

1 Comment so far

  1. Pretty Simple (unregistered) on September 30th, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

    Good work Faraz. I have been through different reviews of Mohsin’s work, when he was about to become famous in Pakistan, i think he is an asset and perfect addition in the lot of contemporary writers. If you remember, quite a few English writers surfaced in late 90s and early 2Ks, from isb, khi and lhr…and they made it to international scene quite well.

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