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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
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.
Top customer reviews
Princeton educated but lonely and far removed from his roots (family, friends, peers), he was essentially challenged to remain open-hearted and emotionally alive in the USA. To achieve personal self-mastery outside of these familial parameters (in his mind) is to die a thousand deaths due to disenchantment with the whole game of modern life. His heart begins to change in subtle ways. The drama is acute at the end. A real-page-turner.
My visceral reaction is that there is much more to the end game of this short story, and it is never quite resolved/finished. Explanations are wanting. I found myself craving a real discussion afterwards to further open up the beauty, depth, and love I found in this very well-written 1st person (semi-autobiographical?) expose. There is also a motion picture of the same title. I look forward to watching it soon.
Changez is a very moderate muslim from Pakistan who comes to America after having won a scholarship to study at a prestigious university. He embraces all that America has to offer, including a well-paid job in the finance industry in New York, an American girlfriend and the New York lifestyle.
The event of September 11 is the catalyst for an abrupt change to his seemingly all -American life. The way he is treated is now subtly different - searches at airports etc - and this brings about a move away from what he now considers to be the Amoral world of capitalism and western society, which culminates in him walking away from his job and returning to Pakistan.
This was a quick read, and the underlying sense of menace made it quite a page turner. The device of having Changez as the narrator revealing the plot through speaking about his attraction to and then rejection of American ideals to an anonymous customer in a cafe also adds something. The ending is open to interpretation and worth discussing. Recommended.
I also saw the movie which depicted differently the relationship with the American he is sitting with in Pakistan as well as with his American love interest. The movie made this relationship with those characters very different, whereas in the book you really didn't know who he was talking to, that was part of the intrigue. Read the book, watch the movie, read the book again.