Book Review: Discontent And Its Civilizations: Dispatches From Lahore, London, And New York

Discontent And Its Civilizations: Dispatches From Lahore, London, And New York, by Mohsin Hamid

It is entirely impossible to take this author wholly seriously in terms of his observations of the world. It is not difficult to see why it is that the author is discontented. He is someone whose education and political liberalism have led him to be estranged from his native homeland of Pakistan, which he sees as a bit of a basketcase, albeit one that needs to learn to succeed without being bailed out of its problems by the United States or some other superpower. The author did not find himself any more contented in London or in New York, as he happened to leave the United States out of some sort of misguided hostility to George W. Bush. The author reminds this reader at least of those people who wonder why it is that such and such a person was elected president because no one they know is conservative or deeply religious, and so obviously the nation as a whole could not be because their own social circle is so limited to the same sort of people that they happen to be. No wonder the author writes the sorts of disappointing novels that he does.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and it is divided into a fair amount of mostly mercifully short reflections about various nonfiction subjects of interest to the author. For the most part, the subject matter the author deals with is not particularly surprising. The author discusses literature, exploring his reluctant fundamentalist and his thoughts that characters do not necessarily have to be “likable.” He ponders the Great American Novel by women as well as the e-book reading experience. On the other hand, his thoughts are not only about naval-gazing aspects of literature, but have a lot to do with the author’s hostility to nationalism, whether in the United States or Pakistan or anywhere else, as well as his thoughts on the death of Osama Bin Laden, the author’s thoughts about Pakistan’s minority situation and his general opposition to serious religiosity, and a sense of optimism in a future democratic, liberal Pakistan that the author imagines will come into being. The end result is a mixed bag of essays that certainly show the author’s viewpoint but do not always come off as the sort of wisdom the author obviously means them to be.

This book is certainly not entirely worthless. It does a very good job at allowing the author, who has achieved moderate success as a writer of a certain sort of story for a certain sort of reading audience, to have a soapbox to talk about his own political views as well as his own thoughts about the multi-cultural societies, which are not devoid of interest but are not nearly as insightful or clever as the author happens to think them to be. Like many writers, the author should probably stick with writing novels, where the nature of his fiction is ambiguous enough to be read different ways, rather than the unpleasant nature of his political thinking when it is viewed straightforwardly without literary artifice. It is almost as if the author thinks that being a reasonably successful novelist means that people care about what he thinks about geopolitics and the role of the United States or the American political system, none of which he appears to view with anything approaching sound thinking or reasonable opinions. If the author rails against the thought police of the right, he seems strangely complacent about the well-meaning, if not well-doing, of others like himself.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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