Title: "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"
Author: Mohsin Hamid;
Publisher: Bond Street Books;
Pub. Date: March 7, 2007
Listen to the author on NPR's "Fresh Air"
Over the past five years, bookshelves in stores are becoming increasingly heavy with titles that draw on 9/11. SOme books deal with the incident itself...what happened, how it happened and the bravery of the victims, the firefighters and the police force; others deal with the politics that may have caused the incident and still others deal with how it affected seemingly ordinary people directly or indirectly. Books in the latter category can be both, fiction or non fiction and a recent one that jumped out at me and which came highly recommended by both Laura and Sanjay is "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid (please click the name to find out more about this brilliant Pakistani novelist)
Written in first person it tells the story of Changez, a 22-year old Princeton graduate from Lahore in Pakistan. Months before 9/11, as an employee of an elite and reputed firm in New York, Changez seemed destined for the fast, jetsetting life of a young executive, but after the incident Changez couldn't help but notice that people (New Yorkers) treated him differently. It was subtle at first, but when he returned from a vacation in Lahore with a beard, their attitudes seemed to grow more hostile. This unfriendly reception, initially simply on account of his physical appearance, made him question his purpose in America, his goals, his loyalties, his patriotism, the cultural barriers between the east and the west and most of all, his identity. When formerly it would have been true to describe himself as a citizen of the world, he was now finding himself pulling for the people of his clan, which indicates to me that no matter how "globalised" the world gets, when it comes to the crunch many of us align with our tribal identities.
What I liked about the book:
- Hamid employs a wicked narrative strategy...telling his story (a monologue) to an unamed American over the course of a meal at a Pakistani cafe in Lahore. The concilliatory but patronising tone that Hamid gives Changez as he talks to the American contrasts sharply with the upbeat tone gives him while Changez was pursuing the American dream. Also, by employing a first-person narrative the reader gets a wonderful insight into how a person from the east might view 9/11.
- It had the power to make me feel uncomfortable (and I like books that will do that to me) because Changez is quite critical of the American way of life, its culture, society, values, and government...criticisms most of us would shy away from bringing up in our conversations.
- Also, it made me look at young Muslim men more compassionately realizing that it isn't always easy to walk in their shoes in this part of the world.
- I liked reading a Pakistani perspective on India...it helped me see the Indo-Pak situation from the "other" side.
- On a personal level, Hamid's book caused me to think about my dual identity and what it means to me to be a citizen of two countries.
- FInally, who can resist a love story? Yes, it is that...read and find out more!
At the time of writing this review, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was # 13 on the NYTimes' bestsellers list.