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Mohsin Hamid’s migration tale in Booker shortlist

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 13, 2017

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Mohsin Hamid.   -  The Hindu

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final six eps

Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness fails to make the cut

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy’s first novel in 20 years, failed to make it onto the Man Booker Prize shortlist, even as a tale on the global migration crisis by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, alongside American authors Paul Auster, Emily Fridlund and George Saunders, as well as Ali Smith and first-time author Fiona Mozley, made it to the final six.

The six judges, headed by Baroness Lola Young, said the process of whittling down the 13 books that had made the shortlist to the final six had been a very difficult but interesting process.

“There were robust discussions,” she said, with another judge good humoredly quipping about there having been “fighting” before a final list could be agreed upon.

The 13 authors who made it to the shortlist included many of literature’s biggest names alongside newcomers such as Mozley, whose powerful book on a family’s struggle to “retain its self sufficiency as the old ways succumb to the bland greed of the new normality”, made it a “timeless” and “timely” tale in the view of the judges.

The judges also lauded Hamid’s “emotionally intelligent, clear, crisp” Exit West. The protagonists were two of the “many millions of people ready to sacrifice what they have for what they might gain, even as they recognise what they’re losing,” said Young.

Issues of today

All six books addressed “an issue of our time, not necessarily in a political fashion…all six are innovative.

“They are books about the world as it goes on and they are all looking at the world through different lenses to tell us something,” said Lila Azam Zanganeh, one of the judges.

Asked what had kept Roy’s book off the shortlist, the judges said it was not about the books that hadn’t made it to the list but about the strengths of those that had.

Asked whether the fact that three American authors had made it to the list of six suggested that fears that the list would become too Americanised were grounded, Young said they had judged the books purely on their own terms.

“We make judgments not based on anyone’s nationality or gender, but what is written on those pages,” she added. “We have done the job we were asked to do.”

Three South Asian writers — Roy, Hamid, and Kamila Shamsie — made it to the long list announced in July alongside three first-time authors and literary stalwarts such as Auster, Zadie Smith, Ali Smith and Saunders.

Rich, vital book

At the time the judges described The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which made the long list twenty years after Roy’s The God of Small Things won the award, as a “rich and vital book” that came from the “bowels of India.”

The star next door

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, whose Exit West made it to the shortlist, was born in Lahore.

The son of a professor, Hamid a Harvard Law School graduate, is the author of three other novels — Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, as well as a collection of essays, Discontent and its Civilisations.

“Yes, I’m pro-migrant,” he told NPR earlier this year.

“I personally tend to believe that there is a right to migration in the same way there is a right to love whom you like, to believe what you believe, and to say what you want to say.”

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Published on September 13, 2017
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