Review: Discontent and its Civilisations by Mohsin Hamid

December 11, 2014
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Discontent and its Civilisations by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99)

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Readers of Moshin Hamid’s fiction will be familiar with the sense of discontent that pervades his narratives. That restlessness is present in this essay collection, as Hamid jumps from subject to subject and from place to place, from London to Lahore and New York. Just as Sigmund Freud wrote Civilisation and its Discontents, to which Hamid’s title alludes, in the shadow of the First World War, so most of the essays in this book were written in the years following 9/11.

As a Pakistani who spent his childhood in the United States and his adult life in London, Hamid has a unique perspective on the civilisation clash which has defined this era. These elegantly crafted essays confront everything from the future of Pakistan and the death of Osama bin Laden to fatherhood to falling in love.

The insights into Hamid’s literary style and influences will delight devotees of his work, and intrigue newcomers. There are problems with the organisation of the book, however. In-depth, topical pieces, such as “Why Drones Don’t Help”—an analysis of the geopolitical fallout from US drone strikes in Pakistan—are buried at the end of the book, while less obviously urgent pieces from the mid-2000s enjoy a more prominent position.

Overall, though, Hamid makes a compelling case for pushing back against the mono-identities of religion, nationality and race and for embracing the things that all human beings share.