When he was longlisted for Exit West in 2017, Mohsin Hamid sat down to the talk to us about the idea of nationhood and his favourite Man Booker winner.
What has it been like to be longlisted?
It’s a nice feeling. My wife and parents are thrilled. My kids are still trying to understand what a longlist is, exactly. For me, being longlisted is being invited to take part in an adventure for a few weeks. In some ways it reminds me of the days just before my birthday, when I was a child.
What are you working on next?
No idea. I usually don’t work on a new novel in the year I’m publishing one. I just keep a notebook and let the ideas build. Eventually I feel I have to start writing.
What are you reading at the moment?
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?
It’s very hard to pick. Probably it would be The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Is a sense of nationhood a strength or a weakness?
Both. A sense of nationhood can create empathy in people for those around them, and in that way it can be a strength. But it can also divide people from one another, and when it does that it is a dangerous weakness. The important thing to keep in mind is that identity is multifaceted. Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, tribe, occupation, preferences in fashion and food and music and reading – all these things, and many more, can be facets of our identity. But when we privilege one over all the rest – Britishness, say, or Muslimness, or whiteness, or maleness – we do damage to ourselves and to others. When we kill or exclude because one of us is a member of this nation and the other is not, we ignore that both of us are perhaps fathers or daughters or lovers of Pink Floyd or avid readers. We deny that both of us are, above all else, fully human. And when we deny the humanity of others we sacrifice some of our own.