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|Mohsin Hamid |
23 July 1971|
Harvard Law School
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mohsin Hamid (Urdu: محسن حمید; born 23 July 1971) is a Pakistani novelist, writer and brand consultant. His novels are Moth Smoke (2000), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013), and Exit West (2017).
Hamid spent part of his childhood in the United States, where he stayed from the age of 3 to 9 while his father, a university professor, was enrolled in a PhD program at Stanford University. He then moved with his family back to Lahore, Pakistan, and attended the Lahore American School.
At the age of 18, Hamid returned to the United States to continue his education. He graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude in 1993, having studied under the writers Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison. Hamid wrote the first draft of his first novel for a fiction workshop taught by Morrison. He returned to Pakistan after college to continue working on it.
Hamid then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1997. Finding corporate law boring, he repaid his student loans by working for several years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company in New York City. He was allowed to take three months off each year to write, and he used this time to complete his first novel Moth Smoke.
Hamid moved to London in the summer of 2001, initially intending to stay only one year. Although he frequently returned to Pakistan to write, he continued to live in London for eight years, becoming a dual citizen of the United Kingdom in 2006. In 2004 he joined the brand consultancy Wolff Olins, working only three days a week so as to retain time to write. He later served as managing director of Wolff Olins' London office, and in 2015 was appointed the firm's first-ever Chief Storytelling Officer.
Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke, told the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend's wife and becomes a heroin addict. It was published in 2000, and quickly became a cult hit in Pakistan and among Indians who speak English. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award given to the best first novel in the US, and was adapted for television in Pakistan and as an operetta in Italy.
Moth Smoke had an innovative structure, using multiple voices, second person trial scenes, and essays on such topics as the role of air-conditioning in the lives of its main characters. Pioneering a hip, contemporary approach to English language South Asian fiction, it was considered by some critics to be "the most interesting novel that came out of [its] generation of subcontinent (English) writing." In the New York Review of Books, Anita Desai noted:
One could not really continue to write, or read about, the slow seasonal changes, the rural backwaters, gossipy courtyards, and traditional families in a world taken over by gun-running, drug-trafficking, large-scale industrialism, commercial entrepreneurship, tourism, new money, nightclubs, boutiques... Where was the Huxley, the Orwell, the Scott Fitzgerald, or even the Tom Wolfe, Jay McInerney, or Brett Easton Ellis to record this new world? Mohsin Hamid's novel Moth Smoke, set in Lahore, is one of the first pictures we have of that world.
His second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, told the story of a Pakistani man who decides to leave his high-flying life in America after a failed love affair and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It was published in 2007 and became a million-copy international best seller, reaching No.4 on the New York Times Best Seller list. The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, won several awards including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award, and was translated into over 25 languages. The Guardian selected it as one of the books that defined the decade.
Like Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was formally experimental. The novel used the unusual device of a dramatic monologue in which the Pakistani protagonist continually addresses an American listener who is never heard from directly. (Hamid has said The Fall by Albert Camus served as his model.) According to one commentator, because of this technique:
maybe we the readers are the ones who jump to conclusions; maybe the book is intended as a Rorschach to reflect back our unconscious assumptions. In our not knowing lies the novel's suspense... Hamid literally leaves us at the end in a kind of alley, the story suddenly suspended; it's even possible that some act of violence might occur. But more likely, we are left holding the bag of conflicting worldviews. We're left to ponder the symbolism of Changez having been caught up in the game of symbolism—a game we ourselves have been known to play.
In an interview in May 2007, Hamid said of the brevity of The Reluctant Fundamentalist: "I’d rather people read my book twice than only half-way through."
His third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, was excerpted by The New Yorker in their 24 September 2012 issue and by Granta in their Spring 2013 issue, and was released in March 2013 by Riverhead Books. As with his previous books, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia bends conventions of both genre and form. Narrated in the second person, it tells the story of the protagonist's ("your") journey from impoverished rural boy to tycoon in an unnamed contemporary city in "rising Asia," and of his pursuit of the nameless "pretty girl" whose path continually crosses but never quite converges with his. Stealing its shape from the self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over "rising Asia," the novel is playful but also quite profound in its portrayal of the thirst for ambition and love in a time of shattering economic and social upheaval. In her New York Times review of the novel, Michiko Kakutani called it "deeply moving," writing that How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia "reaffirms [Hamid's] place as one of his generation's most inventive and gifted writers."
Hamid has also written on politics, art, literature, travel, and other topics, most recently on Pakistan's internal division and extremism in an op-ed for the New York Times. His journalism, essays, and stories have appeared in TIME, The Guardian, Dawn, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, the Paris Review, and other publications. In 2013 he was named one of the world's 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine.
Hamid's most recent novel, Exit West, is about a young couple, Nadia and Saeed, and their relationship in a time where the world is taken by storm by migrants. It was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker prize.
Hamid moved to Lahore in 2009 with his wife Zahra and their daughter Dina. He now divides his time between Pakistan and abroad, living between Lahore, New York, London, and Mediterranean countries including Italy and Greece. Hamid has described himself as a "mongrel" and has said of his own writing that "a novel can often be a divided man’s conversation with himself."