What is Pakistani writing? Whatever it might be, it seems to have taken up newsprint lately. Things have been changing quickly and irrevocably over the last seven or eight years: a great symbol of American capitalism was destroyed by two aeroplanes; this was followed, some years later, by a crash in the market no less resounding and sudden; in South Asia, Pakistan (marginalised and nearly abandoned by post-Cold War politics) has been veering between being a frail democracy and becoming a basket case. In no obvious way connected to all this, a handful of Anglophone writers has recently been emerging from that country. Most of them are young, and have written one or two or three books; some, like Mohsin Hamid and Mohammed Hanif, have successful careers and lives elsewhere. Their work is not part of the long 20th century; they are not a necessary component of a post-colonial efflorescence, as Indian Anglophone writing appeared to be in the 1980s; they are not in any clear way a part of a national literature; they do not bring with them the promise of offering to the reader the 'sights and sounds' of what used to be, in Kipling's time, North-West India. They are a 21st-century phenomenon, appearing at a time when the new supposed fundamentals of this century - free-market dominance, the end of history, the clash of civilisations - suddenly seem frayed and ephemeral. Pakistani writers are interestingly poised: implicated in both the unfolding and the unravelling of our age.
LRB 27 August 2009 | PDF Download