The New York Times recently asked Jennifer Szalai and Mohsin Hamid why there isn’t a Great American Novel written by a woman? Both writers concluded that there is no such thing as the Great American Novel. “But if the idea of the Great American Novel is blinding us to exquisite fiction written by women, then perhaps its harm is exceeding its usefulness,” Hamid wrote. We think that’s a bit of a cop out. But a few women showed up on our list of the Greatest American Novels.
Mohsin Hamid’s new novel How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is loosely structured as a self-help book. Although, as the writer notes at the outset, ‘the idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one.’ Self-help books, he writes, ‘are an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author.”’
[Mohsin] Hamid is best-known for his second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Moth Smoke, recently re-released by Riverhead, was his first. The plotting is masterful, especially for a first novel; Hamid’s shifts in perspective are effective, and while we know from the courtroom scene at the beginning that a child will be killed, we don’t know which one, which makes the appearance of every child in these pages an event fraught with peril. Moth Smoke was published to considerable critical acclaim in 2000, which is to say after Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapons, and the arms race between Pakistan and India form the jittery backdrop to Daru’s long goodbye.
Emily St. John Mandel, “Invisible Borders: Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke.”