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The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 3, 2007
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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's second book (after Moth Smoke) is an intelligent and absorbing 9/11 novel, written from the perspective of Changez, a young Pakistani whose sympathies, despite his fervid immigrant embrace of America, lie with the attackers. The book unfolds as a monologue that Changez delivers to a mysterious American operative over dinner at a Lahore, Pakistan, cafe. Pre-9/11, Princeton graduate Changez is on top of the world: recruited by an elite New York financial company, the 22-year-old quickly earns accolades from his hard-charging supervisor, plunges into Manhattan's hip social whirl and becomes infatuated with Erica, a fellow Princeton graduate pining for her dead boyfriend. But after the towers fall, Changez is subject to intensified scrutiny and physical threats, and his co-workers become markedly less affable as his beard grows in ("a form of protest," he says). Erica is committed to a mental institution, and Changez, upset by his adopted country's "growing and self-righteous rage," slacks off at work and is fired. Despite his off-putting commentary, the damaged Changez comes off as honest and thoughtful, and his creator handles him with a sympathetic grace. (Apr.)
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Top customer reviews
The novel has a semi autobiographical aspect to it. The protagonist is a Pakistani was educated at Princeton. Mohsin Hamid, the author, is a Pakistani educated at Princeton. I feel I have not read enough author's from Asia and intend to correct that. The novel itself is both unusual to my experience and very well written. There is suspense that slowly builds that I felt was the product of superior writing skills.
I read this book on Kindle while listening to the audiobook simultaneously. The narrator of the audiobook is Satya Bhabha. Up until the last few of Chapter 3 the audiobook was a perfect reproduction of this excellent novel. Mr. Bhabha's narration has been excellent and has added to the reading experience. However a significant part of the end of Chapter 3 is completely missing. It is an important part of the story and if one only listens to the audiobook one will miss it, I think without knowing it. It is approximately the last five paragraphs. One can still comprehend the story, if one only listens to the audiobook, but the reading experience is altered, and not for the better.
Similarly, the last two paragraphs of Chapter 9 are missing. The narration of this chapter ends at the end of a paragraph. Once again, I believe if one only listens to the audiobook, one will not be able to detect this. Once again, the story does not become incomprehensible, but is, I think, diminished.
I paid very little more for the Kindle and audiobook combination than I would have for just the audiobook and I am glad I did so. Thank You...
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.