[by Kaye Exo]
This very stimulating seminar, facilitated by Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt, considered two novels—The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia—and a few essays by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid. Hamid was one of five authors in Literary Arts’ 2015-2016 Portland Arts & Lectures series, and he spoke at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Thursday, April 28. My fellow Delve participants and I each received a ticket to the lecture as part of our seminar tuition.
This seminar took place over the course of two Saturday mornings—an abbreviated version of the typical six-week seminar—and covered a wide range of topics, including the author’s background as a Pakistani, a Pakistani-American, an immigrant, an “outsider,” and a gentle but truthful critic of American culture in the 21st century. Particular points of discussion that arose through our time together included the following questions:
• Who is qualified to speak about and define “the war on terror?”
• What does it mean to be rich? Is it only about money?
• How is Hamid challenging me with his multiple ideas and questions?
• What do the ideas of inclusion and exclusion mean in theory and in practice?
• How does a Pakistani male understand women and power?
From these questions and more, we brainstormed several ideas:
• In his works, Hamid gives us multiple perspectives and wants his readers to draw their own conclusions about the story.
• In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the character Erica symbolizes America. Her role is to help us see that unless America mends its ways, it will disappear.
• In his writing, Hamid is tackling issues of class and the potential collapse of capitalism.
• In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a central idea seems to be that Americans don’t question themselves enough, and we are very nostalgic about the past. The implication is that Americans are spoiled teenagers.
Throughout the seminar, I enjoyed having my ideas and assumptions positively challenged by my co-participants. I also appreciated the way Reshmi incorporated ideas and questions from other sources such as book reviews and literature discussing the events of September 11. Most of all, I appreciated the way Hamid handled sensitive differences between American and Eastern cultures with perceptiveness and humor.