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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Paperback – April 14, 2008
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Mohsin Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke, dealt with the confluence of personal and political themes, and his second, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, revisits that territory in the person of Changez, a young Pakistani. Told in a single monologue, the narrative never flags. Changez is by turns naive, sinister, unctuous, mildly threatening, overbearing, insulting, angry, resentful, and sad. He tells his story to a nameless, mysterious American who sits across from him at a Lahore cafe. Educated at Princeton, employed by a first-rate valuation firm, Changez was living the American dream, earning more money than he thought possible, caught up in the New York social scene and in love with a beautiful, wealthy, damaged girl. The romance is negligible; Erica is emotionally unavailable, endlessly grieving the death of her lifelong friend and boyfriend, Chris.
Changez is in Manila on 9/11 and sees the towers come down on TV. He tells the American, "...I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased... I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees..." When he returns to New York, there is a palpable change in attitudes toward him, starting right at immigration. His name and his face render him suspect.
Ongoing trouble between Pakistan and India urge Changez to return home for a visit, despite his parents' advice to stay where he is. While there, he realizes that he has changed in a way that shames him. "I was struck at first by how shabby our house appeared... I was saddened to find it in such a state... This was where I came from... and it smacked of lowliness." He exorcises that feeling and once again appreciates his home for its "unmistakable personality and idiosyncratic charm." While at home, he lets his beard grow. Advised to shave it, even by his mother, he refuses. It will be his line in the sand, his statement about who he is. His company sends him to Chile for another business valuation; his mind filled with the troubles in Pakistan and the U.S. involvement with India that keeps the pressure on. His work and the money he earns have been overtaken by resentment of the United States and all it stands for.
Hamid's prose is filled with insight, subtly delivered: "I felt my age: an almost childlike twenty-two, rather than that permanent middle-age that attaches itself to the man who lives alone and supports himself by wearing a suit in a city not of his birth." In telling of the janissaries, Christian boys captured by Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in the Muslim Army, his Chilean host tells him: "The janissaries were always taken in childhood. It would have been far more difficult to devote themselves to their adopted empire, you see, if they had memories they could not forget." Changez cannot forget, and Hamid makes the reader understand that--and all that follows. --Valerie Ryan
A Conversation with Mohsin Hamid
Set in modern-day Pakistan, Mohsin Hamid's debut novel, Moth Smoke, went on to win awards and was listed as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His bold new novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is a daring, fast-paced monologue of a young Pakistani man telling his life story to a mysterious American stranger. It's a controversial look at the dark side of the American Dream, exploring the aftermath of 9/11, international unease, and the dangerous pull of nostalgia. Amazon.com senior editor Brad Thomas Parsons shared an e-mail exchange with Mohsin Hamid to talk about his powerful new book
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Hamid grabs hold of the American Dream as seen through the eyes of a young Princeton grad from Pakistan in a post-9/11 world. As the protagonist, Changez, finds moderate business success and romantic love in New York City, his heritage and identity will be lost in a sea of subtle and blatant bigotry as well as international politics. In relating this journey from loving to loathing of all things American, Changez speaks to a nameless and speechless American whom he encounters in the marketplace of his home city, Lahore, Pakistan. Bhabha's English-influenced Pakistani accent proves soothing and inviting for listeners. His gentle demeanor captures the courteous and polite manner of Changez. His American accent comes in the form of a Midwestern accent with a confident—almost arrogant—lilt. He lapses when it comes to vocalizing women. Though lighter, his voice exudes a stoic resonance instead of a feminine one. But the casual tone of Changez telling his life story translates perfectly with the help of Bhabha's velvet voice.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The main character, Changez, is a young Pakistani from a family that was once affluent but is now in decline. He receives a scholarship to Princeton where he graduates with all A's at the top of his class. He is promptly recruited by a top corporate valuations company, and in no time, is living a life he could not have imagined. He has a great job, a beautiful American girlfriend, and a non-stop social life. He is tall, handsome, well-dressed and well-liked. His boss takes him under his wing and it seems his future will be a brilliant one. And then the World Trade Center is attacked and Changez world view shifts.
I was quite startled by the author's naked openness about his feelings in this story. Changez is in the Philippines on business when the Towers are attacked and his first reaction is one of happiness. He is ashamed of himself for feeling that way and immediately regrets the loss of life but, at the same time, cannot help but approve of the symbolism. Yet, he is well-aware that America has given him so much--why would he feel the way he did?
Slowly Changez slips into decline--a decline that even he does not understand. He is deeply conflicted and divided inside between his gratitude to a country that has given him so much and the land of his birth that he feels loyal to.
During a business trip to Chile he begins to fall apart and, while visiting the home of poet Pablo Neruda, he makes a terrible decision.
This was not an easy book to read at times but the deep conflict and confusion Changez experiences is gripping. The author takes no shortcuts and avoids the trite and expected. The end was shattering. I am very glad to have read this book but believe it is not for everyone.
However, when immigration is associated with trauma—such as trying to acclimate in the aftermath of the September, 11th terror attack¬—culture shock symptoms (sadness, insomnia, alienation, etc.) can easily escalate and become overwhelming. This is that story; plus, the protagonist is also dealing with unrequited love and trauma resulting from the upheaval in his own country, Pakistan.
While Hamid is clearly capable of rendering vivid descriptions and has created a story that flows well, his decision to use monologue as a literary device was not the best strategy—sadly, a 230-page soliloquy is destined to become monotonous, thus distracting from the story rather than enhancing its qualities.
With 297 Amazon reviews, the novel plot has been amply summarized, so I won't do it again. Hamid has a rare ability to create characters who are both unique and universal. Every person is molded by the time and place in which he/she lives. What makes Hamid a powerful storyteller is how he goes about developing a character's story into part of something much larger.
For anyone who has ever immigrated to another country and dealt with learning the language, culture and mindset, Changez's story is very believable. His critical moment comes on 9/11 watching TV coverage of the burning Twin Towers from a hotel room in Manila. Mine came packed in a giant plaza and holding my pre-schooler's hand as the crowds massed around us singing their national anthem during their Independence celebrations. My daughter would never say the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag with the same conviction with which I recited it.
At the prestigious Manhattan valuation firm where Changez is hired fresh from Princeton, the mantra is, "Focus on the fundamentals." Changez, whose name is spelled almost the same as "changes," applies that advice to his life on various levels. Near the end of the novel, he sums up his dramatic conversion saying, "...try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us."
In my book, Hamid is one of the most insightful and thoughtful novelists writing today.