Pakistan: The Reluctant Fundamentalist Review

Title: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Contemporary

Blurb: At a cafe table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter...

Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez's own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

Me: Unbelievable writing. It was so tense and easy to fall into (I read it in 3 days) but still explored complex ideas- phenomenal. 
The Ups: This book has pushed at so many boundaries of the novel form and I loved it. The entire story is one side of a conversation between Changez, a Pakistani man who studied and worked in America, and an unnamed American veteran visiting Pakistan. We hear everything Changez is saying as he tells his story, and even though that could be boring or unrealistic, it is compelling and reveals so much about both characters- it's incredible. 

Changez's voice is so distinct and perfectly maintained throughout the course of the book- which is quite short, 175 pages- that whenever he referenced another character's speech, I could actually hear another voice speaking the words because the voices were so well-characterized. Changez has a formal and polite way of speaking that hints at his foreignness, but his sophistication doesn't bore the reader. His life could also seem boring or over-dramatized, but he discloses just enough emotion explicitly and implicitly to create so much tension and suspense. 

He also sometimes feels like an unreliable narrator, and acknowledges this in his interaction with the American. He says things like, "I see you don't believe me," or "You, sir...seem ready to bolt." There is a clear barrier between the two men and the subtle suspicion escalates, following the change in Changez's story. 

The slow change that Changez's world and emotional state goes through after September 11th is depicted extraordinarily. Slowly as the nation he lives in (America) and its people treat him and his country differently, he begins to feel more alienated and feels called back to his native country. After more thought and after leaving a place that has caused him a lot of success but also a lot of discomfort and hurt, Changez returns to Pakistan. He finds himself becoming increasingly critical of America and its exploitation of the rest of the world for its own success. He speaks openly against American policies- he has never wanted to become, or fitted into the mold for, a fundamentalist, but finds himself changing in response to the world's treatment of his country. 

It is amazing how succinct the prose is, and how much it covers and expresses. There is a simultaneous calling to America and its promises and dreams alongside a revulsion of its imposing "superiority" and ignorance. As an immigrant myself, I greatly enjoyed the depiction of Changez's dilemma and difficulty with identity. 

The Downs: I was a little detached to the romantic relationship with Erica. I do see how it contributed to Changez's overall experience with America and how her denial and appeal was almost a metaphor of America in general to him. Nevertheless, I wasn't very invested in the actual relationship and didn't feel its importance. Maybe that was the point, though.

Overall: An amazingly written, brief novel exploring one man's transformation in a hostile America. 
"Power comes from becoming change." 
"In other words, my blinders were coming off, and I was dazzled and rendered immobile by the sudden broadening of my arc of vision." 
"...not in the way one leaves flowers for the dead, but rather as one twirls rupees above the living." 
"It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins." 

Rating: 5 kisses!

1 comment:

  1. This book looks very interesting!! My moms family is from Pakistan but I've never read a book from there. This looks right up my alley!