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19Feb

‘It felt horrific to be in Britain as a Muslim after 9/11’: Pankaj Mishra and Kamila Shamsie in conversation

The writers discuss problems of representation, class, the culture wars and how fiction is a great way to ask difficult questions

Before Pankaj Mishra and Kamila Shamsie settle down to earnest conversation, they spar about Mishra’s recent renunciation of cricket, both as a player and as a spectator; Shamsie, a die-hard fan who has interviewed some of the sport’s greatest players, is mock-horrified to hear that Mishra, 53, now prefers tennis. Ten minutes on court, he contends, feels more rewarding than a whole day at the crease. “This is the real migration that has happened in Pankaj’s life!” laughs Shamsie. “It’s dramatic – he’s exiled himself.”

Sporting differences aside, the pair are united by a deep commitment to the power of fiction, a subject they interrogate during a wide-ranging conversation on a cold day in London. Shamsie, 48, is the author of seven novels, including Burnt Shadows and Home Fire, a contemporary retelling of the myth of Antigone that won the Women’s prize for fiction in 2018. Her new novel Best of Friends will be published in September.

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