Newspaper article International New York Times

Does Where You Live Make a Difference in How and What You Write?

Newspaper article International New York Times

Does Where You Live Make a Difference in How and What You Write?

Article excerpt

J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" might have read a little differently had he been a resident of Osaka instead of Oxfordshire.

Mohsin Hamid

Last March I went for a walk in St. Louis with the novelist Curtis Sittenfeld. Both of us had lived for a while on the left and right coasts of the United States, and both of us now inhabited riverine cities in the middle of great continental landmasses: St. Louis in her case, Lahore in mine.

We strolled in the crisp Missouri twilight, pausing at an all- you-can-eat sushi joint, and there, in the presence of remarkably few other diners, Curtis and I found we had things in common. We were attached to the cities we lived in. We had two kids each, around the same ages. We reckoned St. Louis and Lahore were good places to raise them. We rarely met "colleagues" unless we, or they, were traveling. We appreciated a slow pace of daily life as conducive to writing (and forgiving of procrastination). We had spouses for whom our hometowns were professionally rewarding. And we planned to stay put -- or at least we had no plans not to stay put.

Curtis would, therefore, probably become more and more a St. Louisan writer, and I would probably become more and more a Lahori one. But what did that mean?

It seems obvious that where we live shapes how and what we write. I suspect Nadine Gordimer might not have written "July's People" had she not lived in South Africa. And J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" might have read a little differently had he been a resident of Osaka instead of Oxfordshire.

Places do things to you.

Since I moved back to Lahore from London five years ago, I've attended a funeral for a family friend who was assassinated; seen 3,000 eager young people try to cram into a 1,000-seat auditorium for a 9 a.m. lecture (not mine) at a literary festival; had windows blown in by a gas explosion at a nearby restaurant; inherited a Jack Russell terrier from an uncle; met bootleggers whose around-the- clock home-delivery service puts that of New York City drug dealers to shame; and been grilled on my reading tastes by an audiologist's assistant. …

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