Every Human Being Migrates Through Time: An Interview With Mohsin Hamid
We strongly believe in uplifting voices that need to be heard. This month, we're highlighting literary works by immigrants and refugees. These books defy national boundaries and provide a lens through which we can examine power, empathy, and community.
In conjunction with today's release of Exit West, we interviewed author Mohsin Hamid.
Brazos Bookstore: Like a lot of your work, Exit West deals with the idea of identity and place. One important idea I get from reading the novel is that we’re all refugees. In a sense, where we are born is immaterial (or arbitrary) and, looked at this way, we’re all alike. Do you see all people as refugees (or immigrants) in a sense?
Mohsin Hamid: Yes I do. Even if some people never relocate geographically, every human being migrates through time. We are all refugees from our childhood: it's a "place" we lose and can never return to. For an elderly person, their city or town is completely different from what it was like 40, 50, or 60 years ago. This movement through time, this loss of the past, unites all of us.
BB: I facilitate the book groups at Brazos Bookstore and we read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia a few months ago. Inevitably your biography came up: do you think having lived in both the East and the West helps inform your writing, giving you a unique perspective?
MH: I have definitely been shaped by the migrations in my own life: born in Pakistan, moved to California at 3, back to Pakistan at 9, America again at 18, London at 30, and then Pakistan once more at 38. I'm a "local" in multiple places. And also a little bit of a foreigner everywhere. Which has helped me realize that everyone feels different, everyone feels a little "foreign" or weird in some way. It's definitely shaped my writing.
BB: Despite the dark themes present in your work, there is a human warmth in your novels, a deep humanity, that’s always present. Is that your intention or simply your voice coming through the writing?
MH: Yes, it's intentional. Increasingly, in these pessimistic times, I think hope is important. In fact it's a radical political gesture. Without it, we risk becoming depressed and vulnerable to the nostalgic political visions of xenophobes and bigots.
BB: EXIT WEST is also a love story, albeit an unconventional love story. I get the impression you were describing the idea that even when war is happening people don’t stop living or falling in love. Life continues. Is this, perhaps, some indirect guidance for readers facing uncertain times?
MH: Life does continue, because people everywhere are human. Exit West is very much a love story. About a particular kind of love, one that many people have experienced: a first love, one that doesn't necessarily work out. I wanted to explore a romantic love that was, at its heart, not about possession, but about friendship.
Throughout March, 20% of our sales of Hamid's books will be donated to the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees. PAIR's mission is to empower refugee youth to navigate American society, reach their academic potential, and become community leaders.