Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London

Mohsin Hamid. Riverhead, $27.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-59463-365-2

This collection of 36 essays will be of most interest to dedicated fans of Pakistani novelist Hamid (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia). Others, however, may be disappointed to find that the pieces, most of which were previously published, tend to be topical and of limited scope. Hamid, who has also lived in New York City and London, provides a voice of reasoned tolerance on the issues dividing the Middle East and the West,, but he might have been better served by writing a memoir. Instead, he offers thoughts on a wide variety of topics, some more rewarding than others: e-books, whether TV dramas are the new good novels, the home-cooked dinner he almost made for Toni Morrison, etc. An essay on President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo seems out of date; the piece would have benefited from an afterword giving Hamid’s view of the speech’s lasting significance. The lighthearted essays dilute the impact of the more substantive sections—especially those delving into the so-called clash of civilizations, such as the title essay, in which he writes: “The idea that we fall into civilizations, plural, is merely a politically convenient myth.” [em](Feb.) [/em]