The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 9:13 AM in
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
-Mohsin Hamid

The first book review from my stables, for the blog…

Low-down on the author:
Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani British author. His first novel was named ‘Moth Smoke’ and was published in 2000. His second piece of work, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, was published in 2007 and earned him a Booker Prize nomination the same year. An Ivy League graduate, he studied at Princeton University till 1993 before attending Harvard Law School and graduating in 1997. After working with McKinsey and Company as a management consultant in NYC, he soon moved back to Lahore and undertook freelance journalism. Currently he resides in London and works as a part-time consultant.

* Spoilers begin here *
The protagonist, Changez, hails from the Punjab district of Pakistan. He gets admitted at Princeton University, New Jersey at eighteen and packs his bags to come and settle down in the US. After graduating with straight As’, he joins the most reputed valuation firm of his time in New York. He proves his mettle at Underwood Samson and also falls in love with a lady called Erica simultaneously. Erica is a white woman and hails from an affluent American family. She had been with Changez at Princeton and was reeling under the emotional trauma of dealing with the sad demise of her childhood boyfriend Chris due to cancer. Just when Changez’s life graph is all set to skyrocket… the 9/11 tragedy strikes and all goes haywire. Erica, who had been slowly recovering owing to Changez’s presence in her life, is thrown back in time and is reminded of the period when she had lost her boyfriend. One thing leads to another and it all boils down to Erica entering rehab at a far of institute and curtailing almost all contact with Changez. While his love life is on the rocks, Changez visits his family in Pakistan and is plagued by pangs of guilt on his way back because India is threatening to wage war against his country after an unabashed attack on its parliament. A victim of brain drain, he soon realizes that his motherland needs him more than the US and he quits his job to return home. He tries one more time to re-establish contact with Erica only to find out that she went missing some time back and circumstantial evidence point its finger in the direction of a possible suicide. Changez, disillusioned and gloomy after hearing about Erica, is in for another rude shock when he notices America’s indifference towards protecting its nuclear ally Pakistan against India. Its diplomatic impassivity evokes disdain in him and he comes back to Lahore to teach finance as a university lecturer. Perceived as a pioneer in starting a new wave of agitation against the Americans, he bears the brunt of being candid and fearless with a probable undercover assassin, masqueraded in the garb of an American tourist. In the end, Changez is culled for delivering an articulate and appealing media interview bashing America and its unwarranted interference in the affairs of other nations, most particularly Asian.
* Spoilers end here *

The entire story is narrated in the form of a monologue. It’s a literary feat to deliver a tale this fast paced and captivating with just the support of a single man’s dialogues. Riveting read that demands your attention and at the same time allows you to glide with the words with flummoxing ease. A Booker nominee… this book is a healthy departure from the stereotypical, hard-core Booker novels like those of authors like Kiran Desai and Salman Rushdie. It doesn’t require you to sit with a dictionary and look up every ninth word to make sense of the story. Talking of the story, Changez’s backdrop is highly autobiographical and corresponds well with Hamid’s vital stats.

Exponential human emotions have been highlighted delicately throughout the course of the novel. Take for the instance the emergence of subtle arrogance as a natural by product of talent; the amazement and the sense of achievement that tags along with attending an Ivy League college, joining a reputed firm that pays eighty thousand dollars per year and flying business class for the first time; the plight of falling in love with somebody who is still in love with somebody else and the frustration of knowing that the rival ‘somebody else’ doesn’t even inhabit the planet anymore; the vagaries of an educated mind; the upsurge of love for family at a time when the threat of a war looms large on the heads of the people who matter the most; the feeling of betrayal at seeing the apathy of the country you are serving towards the country you hail from; the occurrence of a terrorist attack that brings the world’s most powerful nation to its knees; the gory aftermath; its toll on the lives of others; a brainflash that washes away all traces of a preceding binge of braindrain; a woman’s dilemma at almost loving two men at the same time and altering loyalties between both; the feeling of defeat at not being able to pull the woman you love out of depression; the sense of pride at showcasing your exotic country to a foreigner; the intricacies of a high pressure job in a even more richly competitive environment; and the trade off between doing the right thing and giving up everything that glistens like gold…

The narrative is smooth and we are reminded repeatedly that it’s a monologue being delivered in Old Anarkali (Lahore) to an American tourist who clearly suffers from xenophobic paranoia. Owing to incidents like the decapitation of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was investigating the possible links between Islamist terrorists and Pakistani intelligence services in 2002, his jitteriness is completely in sync with a foreigner’s psyche. Though the concluding pages are unforeseen and unexpected. The candidness and honesty that comes attached with the protagonist (Changez) and his near assassination in the end forces one to reconsider abiding by one’s virtues in extraordinary times. Are we to be on our defensive during testing phases and curb natural tendencies in favor of what is politically correct and pleasing to the people in power? Broadening horizons and expanding the purview… will Pakistan ever see the light of being a truly democratic, secular and sovereign nation? Will the US ever confess that its an imperialist and loosen its grip on the nations that it constantly demands ‘cooperation and support’ from? Will it look beyond immediate gains to consider the well-being of these nations that suffer under its constant, unbridled whims? What does the future hold in store for Iraq? Will the world see more Changezes who give up a golden life in a far off country to come back and serve the interests of their own nation? Will reverse brain drain, as a concept, flourish? How many reluctant fundamentalists do we have amongst us?

The ending depicts the sanguinary side of the rivalry between the east and the west. In an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust, over-optimists pay the price for their overtly hopeful dispositions. Spruced with noteworthy lines everywhere to constantly keep the reader at his toes, I feel compelled to share a few of these lines with you-

· “… it is not always possible to restore one’s boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: 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.” (On Erica)
· “…the lives of those of us who lived in lands in which such killers [terrorists] also lived had no meaning except as collateral damage.” (A reflection on life in Pakistan)
· “... 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.” (On the 9/11 attacks)
· “I had always resented the manner in which America conducted itself in the world; your country's constant interference in the affairs of others was insufferable. Finance was the primary means by which the American empire exercised its power” (A third world national’s views on imperialistic America)
· “Every fall, Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters who came onto campus and—as you say in America—showed them some skin. The skin Princeton showed was good skin, of course—young, eloquent, and clever as can be—but even among all that skin, I knew in my senior year that I was something special. I was a perfect breast, if you will—tan, succulent, seemingly defiant of gravity—and I was confident of getting any job I wanted.” (On placements at Princeton)

If this has managed to wet your appetite even slightly, pick up this book… it shouldn’t take more than two and a half hours for a comprehensive read. I’ll give a 3.5/5 rating to Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. Still can’t think of any genre of readers who wouldn’t enjoy this breezy, intelligent and highly engaging piece of fiction.

I received this book from a close someone who insists that I infuse more opinions in my posts. Here's promising the saviour that I will try...


disclosed the plot havent u? :P could have done without disclosing that teeny weeny detail about the climax :P u v certainly put some opinion in this one....the extracts were nice...rand's book was the first attempt i made to remember extracts consciously...u obviously read attentively....a good review...read more and write more....

@the lazy knight: who asked you to read the plot? the spoiler warning was in place... u chose to ignore it at your own risk :p :d

anyway, will read more n write more. lots more. opinions included. keep visiting :)

hmmm... interesting.. either ur really good as a reviewer... or you loved this book tooo much! as said before... very comprehensive review, will try to read this one.. after all its the first book u reviewed!!

@sugar&spice: he he... try picking up the book, pretty. and thanks for dropping by :)

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you surely have aroused some (actually a lot more) interest.. the entire review seemed quiet long to begin with but once started it was a very pleasant read.... and yeah.. Bombay surely rocks !!!

hmmmmmm.........a very comprehensive review....doesn't seem like it was your first attempt....n believe me!! disclosing the plot didn't lessen my interest even one bit! would love to read the book even now!!

Well, everyone over here has showered so many praises that i hardly have anything left to say.
One word sums up what i feel about the review - Awesome !!

seems like a comprehensive review... surely has risen my interest to read the book... u seem to have read the book carefully and with gr8 interest... quoting lines from the book and presenting various thoughts of the character... great review!!!

@saik: bombay rocks? join the club! keep visiting :)
p.s. picking up the book would be a good idea :)

@jandeep: first things first, thanks for taking the pains of coming here n commenting :p
second, 'comprehensive review'? iv been hearing that a lot from all directions! pick up the book... keep visiting, keep commenting :)

@arunabh: awesome, is it? pick up the book! keep visiting :)

@tara: praises from all sides!! thanks re! keep visiting :)

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