Monday, February 25, 2008

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

At a cafe table in Lahore, a Pakistani man begins the tale that has led to his fateful meeting with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting....

Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. Top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by Underwood Samson, an elite firm that specializes in the 'valuation' of companies ripe for acquisition. He thrives on the energy of New York and the intensity of his work, and his infatuation with the elegant, beautiful America promises entry into the Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back home in Lahore.

For a time, it seems as though nothing will stand in the way of Changez's meteoric rise to personal and professional success. But in the wake of September 11, he finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez's own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power and maybe even love.

With echoes of Camus and Fitzgerald, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a riveting, devastating exploration of our divided yet ultimately indivisible world.

I can not tell you how surprised I am at how much I really loved this book especially given the way that the story itself is told.

The main character Changez offers assistance to an unnamed American tourist one afternoon. After shepherding the tourist to a small cafe, so begins a long afternoon/evening where Changez tells his tale. The interactions with the other characters are only show as they are reflected through Changez's own speech. At no time do we hear from the tourist, or the waiter or any of the other characters of whom we generally only see fleeting glimpses.

The story that Changez tells is one of searching for identity and belonging and love. Changez had spent many years in America studying at Princeton, getting top grades and eventually recruited to one of the most sought after jobs following graduation. Everything is going well for Changez. Not only does he have the job of his dreams, earning loads of cash, travelling first class, but he is also falling in love with the beautiful Erica who introduces him to the creme de la creme of New York society.

Then comes 9/11, and while at first there is little change for Changez gradually he begins to look at the implications of the political decisions that are made, and wonder about his own identity in relation to these events. He also begins to understand that Erica's seemingly confident grace is a barely there shell over a fragmented and tortured psyche.

As he tells the stranger his story and they share a meal and drinks, we get to see small glimpses of clues about what kind of man it is that Changez is dining with and what he might be doing in Lahore, but a lot of the information we are given is implied rather than presented to the reader on a platter.

The fact that all 180 pages of this book are portraying this one meeting, and that there is so little interaction and clarity around the other characters would normally be something that would drive me nuts, but in this authors capable hands, there was no question of impatience on my part. I was prepared to let the details unfurl at precisely the speed that the author was ready to reveal them and to savour the skill involved in telling such a strong story from such a limited perspective.

Quite often books that are nominated for prizes can be a bit inaccessible and can feel like something of a labour to get through, but not this one! Every now and again there is a gem that is profound and yet completely readable, and this is one such case.

Totally loved it!

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Bold. Blue. Adventure


  1. I thought that the language of The Reluctant Fundamentalist was beautiful, and I liked the way the story was told. But ultimately, I was frustrated by the narrator, whose detailing of his life in America made him seem...pedestrian. Which I suppose was part of the author's point?

  2. I've heard some good things about The Reluctant Fundamentalist and have now added it to my list. Thanks, Marg.

  3. I am yet to read it. Another to add to my TBR pile..

  4. I passed this one up in the store not too long ago and have regretted it ever since. I definitely would like to read this book. Thanks for the great review, Marg!

  5. Looks like I'm adding another book to the list. Thanks for your review.

  6. Okay, Okay, you talked me into it! LOL! I wasn't going to read this one but your review hax changed my mind! I added it to my TBR.

  7. I definitely agree with you. It is a very readable book. I honestly wasn't sure if I'd like this one, but I once I started, I couldnt' put it down. And the style of only hearing the narrator's voice would have driven me crazy if not in the right hands. But the author kept it going along perfectly.

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