Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 December 2017
Mohsin Hamid's three novels, all written since the year 2000, have established him as a rising star of the transnational novel of globalisation, featuring prominently in what Bruce King calls ‘the current golden age of writing by Muslims’. All are forms of the Bildungsroman and play out their individual dramas with respect to present-day Pakistan's relationship with the West. They can be read alongside the work of contemporaries such as Hanif Kureishi, Kamila Shamsie and Kiran Desai, who, in showing the human consequences of East-West polarisation, give space and voice to the Muslim subject. In each novel Hamid challenges the interpretative powers of his audience by questioning pre-determined reading positions; and through a literary poetics which draws on the proliferating collectivities and networks of globalisation, in his third novel he hints at a widening arc of international sympathy and understanding.
Hamid focuses on the impact of changing post-imperial US politics, economics and educational opportunity upon the transnational youth of Pakistan: his protagonists are Muslim men who are players in the world of international commerce and banking. In presenting his geopolitical transnational subject matter, he combines documentary realism with fictional modes like allegory, fable and legend, showing a modernist affinity for tropes of impersonality, shadowy doubles, anonymity and mirroring to convey doubt and hesitation, and making use of postmodern theatricality and metafiction. The world of his novels is dominated either by the mass media and its regulating frames of perception, or by global digital technologies whereby cultural exchange occurs in virtual overlapping spaces. Images of media hyperreality following 9/11 in The Reluctant Fundamentalist suggest a post-postmodern performativity based on an affective need to respond to this undermining of the ‘real’. Hamid's use of the first- and second-person narrators makes audible to the West the voice of the Muslim subject as a representative of Rising Asia, and so challenges readers’ assumptions about the ‘other’. Through first-person narration or auto-fiction and related modes like testimony, confession or reflective self-analysis, he represents the Asian subject as an insider, so correlating individual with public narratives of contemporary Pakistan, and he co-opts the reader as a character through the ‘you’ mode of enunciation. All three novels represent the subjectivity of their protagonists through nuance of voice and gesture, and choreograph the reader's response through a call to ethical judgement.