Hosting a round table at the International Festival of Authors is always challenging, especially when the participants differ as much as did my trio of writers last Saturday at the Lakeside Terrace.
Eric Wright, the mystery and memoir writer, Alessandro Piperno, the Italian writer who's penned what the hypemasters like to call the Italian Portnoy's Complaint and Mohsin Hamid, author of the Booker shortlisted The Reluctant Fundamentalist all gave generously to a discussion of War, Trauma and The New Novel.
In the middle of it, however, the gifted Hamid responded to a comment from me regarding the premise of his novel - the protagonist Changes is speaking a monologue to his dining companion in a cafe at a bazaar in Lahore. Changez has a beard, his companion a buzz cut. We're not sure of the relationship, but Changez's companion keeps looking around and maybe has a bulge under his armpit beneath his clothes.
I asked Hamid to talk about the tension embedded in the premise and to expand on a comment he'd made elsewhere to the effect that, "We're all already afraid."
Hamid talked about how interesting it was to him that his book was seen as such a thriller. We are, he said, so changed by our fear of terror that we bring that fear to everything we see and read.
Muslims are hopelessly stereotyped, whole countries are pidgeon holed, he explained. People think there is only one kind of Muslim. They don't know, for example, that in Pakistan the most popular late night talk-show host is openly queer and a Muslim. We simply don't see past our assumption.
The truth is, we're still much more likely to be killed crossing the road than by terrorist intervention. The idea that the product of two people from different cultures sitting at a table is most likely to be violence is in itself a huge assumption.
Hamid went on to talk about how describing his ability to "ratched up the tension," speaks more about the reader than about his premise.
I turned pink at the comment, and admitted that the reviewer who'd used those very words was me. That's alright, he allowed, assuring me that I'm not alone.
He was so smart and engaging - it's now wonder he was trailed by admirers everywhere he went at the festival.
Check out my review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.