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The Reluctant Fundamentalist is part of a group of books that have had their covers completely redesigned by 'street artists' which are all rather snazzy looking so you should definitely go check all of those books out.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book at all and to be honest it's not the sort of book that I'd usually go for. It's basically about a young man named Changez who moves from Lahore to the USA after gaining a place at the presitigious Princeton University. He then secures a very good job with a Underwood Samson, a huge valuation firm, and he really does seem to be living the dream. However, after the events of 9/11, people start to treat him differently and he ends up back in Lahore.
Curiously, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is written from the first person perspective and is basically one side of a conversation that Changez is having with an American he has just met in a cafe in Lahore. It is written retrospectively so you never hear anyone else talk and the replies from the American are inferred by Changez's replies. This is the first book of this kind that I've ever read and it was most fascinating. I would say that the narrative technique is the best thing about this book because it was just so unique. As you never hear what other character's are saying or feeling, it almost becomes a sort of game whereby you have to guess what the other person said by Changez's reaction which is interesting.
As for the plot, I wasn't particularly impressed. I believe that some people study this book at school and I can see why because it raises many issues to do with racism and immigration, subjects which are still a hot topic in the USA, but in some ways, I wonder how it made its way onto school reading lists. The plot doesn't have that much substance in the sense that not a lot actually happens. I thought that this would focus a lot on the treatment of muslims post-9/11, but this was not the case. The story was slightly convoluted by a sub-plot involving Changez and an American girl, Erica, but what she brings to the story becomes less and less significant to the greater plot even though it starts to take up more and more of the narrative which is perplexing.
To top it all off, the ending was thoroughly confusing. It is a sort of plot twist (I think?), but to be honest, I wasn't really sure and this is one of the flaw's of the one sided conversation style of narration because it's all about what Changez is saying, not really what he is feeling and so it wasn't that clear what was going on and who was doing what.
Also, I had no idea that this book had been made into a film that was released in 2012. I haven't watched it, but judging from the trailer it doesn't really seem to have followed the pattern of the book that stringently so I'm not keen to watch it.
In conclusion, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a so-so book that has some great moments about the loss of identity and moving to a new country and racism etc, but for the most part it was a disappointment as I believe the narrative lacked focus. I would recommend reading this purely for the unique narrative style that is quite rare but plot-wise, I don't think this book has that much to offer readers.
Changez, a young man from Pakistan, embraces the American way of life when he is offered a scholarship to the prestigious Princeton University and he graduates top of his class. After graduation he is offered a highly sought after job in corporate finance where he again excels and is seen as a high flier with a lot of potential. Things change after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre and Changez begins to question whether this is the life he really wants to live.
"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is told in the first person as Changez recounts his story to an American he meets in a crowded market in Lahore. He invites this stranger for tea and tells his story as the evening progresses. We never learn the identity of this strange American, will they part as friends at the end of the day or is there something more sinister going on?
When Changez first arrives in the USA he is ashamed of his modest Pakistani roots as he is surrounded by rich Americans and does everything he can to fit in and embrace the American way of life. He is also accepted by the Americans and he makes friends, holidays with his fellow students and falls in love with Erica, a girl who appears to be the life and soul of the party but carries some dark secrets underneath her carefree exterior. The one part of the story which was slightly unsatisfying was the strange love story between this unlikely pair, a shy polite Pakistani and a socialite and the way in which it progressed.
Things change after 9/11 and he realises he is actually happy that America has been targeted and identifies more with the protesters on the other side of the world who burn the American flag than he does with his colleagues and friends. As a man with brown skin he suddenly finds himself viewed with suspicion on the streets of New York, the city he had loved and this reaction leads him to increasingly question everything he loved about his adopted nation and be drawn into anti-American politics.
I will admit that I am not a fan of the USA and their foreign policy or the reaction of a lot of Americans after the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001. The jingoism and the fact that some Americans viewed anyone who did not agree with them as terrorists who were jealous of their superior nation is something that made me angry; nothing can ever excuse the horrific acts of terrorism committed against the USA but their reaction is also something that deeply disturbed me so I found myself rooting for Changez and really empathising with his story. It shows the other side of the so called war on terror where innocent Muslims are demonised and their countries bombed in the name of freedom.
The writing style is exceptional, it is a short novel which the author Mohsin Hamid condensed his original story down by cutting out any words not necessary to tell the story. I love this crisp and concise style of writing and the fact that the book covers so many important themes makes you feel like you have read a much bigger book by the end. It is a book which is easily devoured over a couple of sittings.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist was the choice for my bookclub, chosen by a member because it spoke to her about what was important in life. It was a popular choice with only one reader disliking it and most giving it between 8 and 10 out of 10. It was a book which inspired a great debate about whether or not the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were justified as well as what gives us a sense of belonging.
This is an excellent novel, very well written and easy to read yet thought provoking. It is the type of story in which you devour every word and want more once you have finished reading.
I decided to read The Reluctant Fundamentalist as I had really enjoyed another novel by Mohsin Hamid, Moth Smoke. Like Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist drew me in straight away and gripped me from the very first lines: "Excuse me, Sir, may I be of any assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard. I am a lover of America".
The whole book is written as a monologue in the voice of a young Pakistani man, Changez. He meets an American near a cafe in Lahore and persuades the man to have tea and dinner with him, sitting talking for hours. Changez addresses the American as "you". I found it interesting that we only really see one side of the conversation, which is what Changez is saying. He occasionally makes remarks about what "you" i.e. the American and possibly the reader might be thinking. This is an unusual style, but I think it really worked as it makes the story telling seem quite immediate and made me feel involved. We are told very little about the American, only given hints about him, such as that he seems to be "on a mission", he is well travelled but doesn't seem to be an average tourist.
Changez is a character which I initially warmed to. He is ambitious, intelligent and cultured, and he relates the story of how he left Pakistan to go to study at Princeton before achieving entry to an extremely competitive graduate scheme where he worked at a company which values businesses. However, life isn't completely charmed for Changez and from his narration it is clear that he feels some conflict between his American life and his Pakistani identity. His family in Pakistan had been wealthy in the past and, though still middle class, were losing money and Changez feels that he as a successful "American" is living the lifestyle he should have been having in Pakistan. At first he seems to be living the American dream, but he reveals incidents where he feels like a fake in his American life and he doesn't always identify with his peers. On holiday with some of his classmates he finds it shocking how they have such a sense of entitlement, spend money so easily and have an easy confidence which is unnatural to him. He falls in love with an American girl, Erica, but the relationship is not easy. She constantly tells him she loves when he talks about Pakistan which emphasises how different he is. Although he doesn't seem to suffer any racism, he is always aware of something separating him from the people around him.
The 9/11 attacks are a pivotal moment in Changez's life story, as he surprises himself by smiling when he hears the news. He realises that he feels glad that America has been "taken down a peg or two" so to speak, and although he struggles with feeling like this, he just does, and he starts to distance himself from his work and feel more drawn back to his family and life in Pakistan. He starts to look at America in a different way and he feels the American news coverage is almost like sports reporting, which sickens him. His love interest Erica is also badly effected by 9/11 as it triggers depression and anxiety in her which she was suffering since losing her boyfriend to cancer when he was still young and it is also difficult for Changez to deal with their complicated relationship.
As Changez tells the American about all of this and more, the American is becoming nervous, for example commenting that night is drawing in, and the place is emptying. Changez remains calm but we get a certain sense of unease. As Changez walks the American to his hotel, the story culminates in something which can be read in two different ways and we are left wondering whether appearances can be trusted and who is what they seem.
This is a novel which is a real page turner and extremely gripping. The writing style is light and engaging, but the subjects raised, of cultural identity and terrorism, are not superficial. Changez is a multi faceted character who definitely kept my attention with his monologue and the story made me think, leaving me with some unanswered questions at the end.
I definitely enjoyed this book and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. I also recommend Mohsin Hamid's other book, Moth Smoke, which is not listed on Dooyoo.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a novel by Mohsin Hamid that was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2007. It's a slim volume that's deceptively easy to read but will keep you thinking about it for a long time after you turn the last page.
The story is told from the perspective of Changez, a young man from Pakistan whose intelligence and hard work propel him into an elite group of international students who are able to obtain a scholarship for an Ivy League education in the United States. Changez leaves his family in Pakistan to attend Princeton and then he settles in New York City, working for a highly respected valuations firm.
Things appear to be going extremely well for Changez - he has an expense account and a high salary that enables him to live the American dream. He also starts going out with a young woman, Erica, but her inability to let go of the past poisons their relationship - Erica's childhood sweetheart died of cancer and she suffers serious emotional problems due to this.
Then September 11th hits and Changez, by all appearances out of nowhere, finds that he feels glad. This is the first real hint in the novel that Changez has anything other than respect and appreciation for the chance he has been given in America. Instead, the reader slowly begins to realise that Changez must resent the fact that everything comes easily to his American peers, but for the people of Pakistan life is a great struggle. And this despite the fact that Pakistan is an ancient civilisation with a long, proud history.
Changez means "change" in French, and the entire plot of the book hinges on the way Changez changes due in part to the events of September 11th. While the change begins internally when he feels this unexpected happiness about the terrorist attacks, it is compounded by the way he begins to be treated by others around him. Racist incidents and American flags everywhere combine to make him feel more and more like a stranger in a strange land. While once he wanted nothing more than to fit in with the Americans around him, he begins to want to stand out for who he is. In an act of provocation, he stops shaving his beard, and sure enough nearly all of his formerly friendly American colleagues begin to view him and treat him with suspicion.
The novel can be read on so many different levels and while the story itself is interesting it's the meaning behind the story that really makes you think. One reviewer for the New York Times pointed out that the meaning one finds in this book can be a sort of "Rorschach test" for one's own personality. For example, the character Erica, who is unable to let go of the glorious past that she lived with her ex-boyfriend who has since died - to me she represents the golden age of America. This former incarnation of the country welcomed immigrants from the old world who sought a new life, battled Nazi Germany, and was a force for good in the world. But this former America has now died, and yet its citizens continue to live in the past, unable to see their country for what it truly is today. Others who read the book may interpret her character differently - perhaps she could represent Pakistan which also had its golden age, for example.
The way this novel is told is very unusual. It's a monologue delivered by Changez to an American stranger at market in Lahore. The stranger is jumpy and clearly uncomfortable but he spends hours with Changez listening to his story. Interpreting the reason why this stranger sits and listens and who he is may reveal a little bit about where one's personal loyalties lie.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist reminds me a bit of The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing in its theme. Both books are about someone who is seemingly a good person become corrupted by the environment they find themselves in and end up committing acts they would otherwise seem incapable of. The Good Terrorist is written in a very different style, however - it's a detailed novel that takes a long time over character development and events, whereas The Reluctant Fundamentalist is striking in its spareness of detail. The way in which The Reluctant Fundamentalist reveals something about the inner beliefs of its reader reminds me of The Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone with any interest in world affairs who wants a novel that's easy to read, but far from simplistic.
This short but gripping novel tells the story of Changez, a young Pakistani man living in America, who has secured a high-powered job on Wall Street. Although, at first, he is seduced by the wealth and status his new career offers, 9/11 and its after-effects, particularly America's aggressive foreign policy, make him dramatically reassess his attitude towards his adopted country.
Mohsin Hamid tackles a controversial subject with intelligence and sensitivity and shows there can be no simple answers. Changez is both restrained and thoughtful, a world away from the typical image of the single-minded 'fundamentalist'. His disillusionment with American values stems in part from his growing disgust with the ruthless capitalism of his chosen career and the unofficial motto of the finance company he works for, 'focus on the fundamentals', makes us question just who the 'fundamentalist' of the title really is.
The novel has an intriguing narrative style, which sees Changez relate his history to a mysterious American, who remains almost entirely silent throughout. Changez's narrative voice drives the story forward at a fast pace but it isn't always clear how much it can be trusted. As the story progresses, the motives of both narrator and listener become more and more questionable, and Mohsin Hamid uses this to slowly increase the tension until the novel reaches its chillingly ambiguous ending.
Not all the members in the book group I read this with were convinced by where Changez's emotional journey eventually led him, but the novel generated a lot of discussion, which is usually the sign of a good book. We all felt the use of the monologue gave the story an edge it might not otherwise have had and that the author cleverly played on our own preconceptions as readers. Everyone in the group enjoyed the Reluctant Fundamentalist and at just over 200 pages it's an easy but thought provoking read.
Skillfully-composed, clever in execution - and only occasionally too much so for its own good - Mousin Hamed's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a crafty novella that examines the east-west rift that has only deepened over the past decade. At one point in proceedings, our protagonist Changez is told of the Janissaries; Christian children taken by the Ottoman Empire and trained to fight unquestioningly against their own people. A Pakistani in New York, Changez begins to see himself in the same light, and question his own allegiances.
The story is told entirely in the form of Changez's monologue as he relates his tale to a slightly jumpy American stranger he meets in a café in downtown Lahore. Beginning with his arrival in the States as an undergraduate at Princeton, his is a story of a tragic love affair, with both a girl and a country. A high-achieving student who wins a role at a prestigious New York valuations firm, Changez is very much a young man on the up, achieving more and making greater sums of money than he had ever before thought possible.
His castle is to topple, of course - that much we gather early on. However, this relative-rags-to-riches-and-back-again tale (with a suitably enigmatic young lady thrown in for good measure) is only one aspect of the story. As the calendar flips over to the 11th of September, 2001, Changez is reminded that he is, for all his dollars and pretensions, still a stranger in a strange land, and is forced to ponder on his transient identity.
Mousin Hamed is an author who has trod much the same path as his character - geographically, at least - and this tells in his writing. In a crisp, calculated narrative which serves to further Changez's character the more with every finely-weighted sentence we feel a skilful blend of fantasy and reality - the character living his own, imagined life, but frequently following the author's after-image.
The narrative is certainly one of the most distinctive flavours of the book, and it's a tribute to Hamed's talents that 200 pages of monologue can be so thoroughly readable. Changez occasionally makes references to what the stranger is doing, or reacts to what he must have said (apparently for our benefit), but for the most part it's his story, told in his words while the mysterious stranger - and we do begin to wonder about the relationship between the two - sits back and listens.
Is this man really a stranger? Neither individual professes to know the other, but why have they fallen into this lengthy conversation that spans an evening in a Lahore café? Is he linked to Changez's story somehow? Hamed teases us with these questions, and ultimately delivers an ending that is bound to generate speculation - although it does feel like the conclusion has been thrown in purely for this purpose, as it relates a fraction unconvincingly to the rest of the story.
This is a short, sweet, clever book that might not endure too greatly in the memory, but makes an excellent impression at the time. Hamed's incisive narrative recalls the reserved regret of Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, and the modern, thoroughly relevant setting gives the book a context that is likely to further provoke discussion about the story's connotations. There is too, depth beyond the story, with levels of metaphor and heaps of subtextual allusions that you can revel in or set aside as you choose. A neat second novel from a promising author with talent and vision, The Reluctant Fundamentalist rewards the eager reader.
'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' impressed me on a number of different levels. It is a sparse, short book which reflects on culture, terrorism, xenophobia, capitalism and mental illness. This may sound like an intimidating list, but the way that Mohsin Hamid subtly weaves these issues into the narrative makes the story one that is very easy to read and totally enthralling.
Like many of the best books, the entire story takes place during one short night. A strange man approaches an American with the words, 'Excuse me sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see that I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America'. This first sentence sets the tone for the whole book, which is in fact a monologue. We learn that the man in question in Changez, a Muslim Pakastani who is living in his home town of Lahore. His American companion is never named, and his speech is never set down on the page, but we know that he is both uncomfortable and worried, as Changez often mentions it: 'why are you looking so alarmed?, please sit down, there is nothing to worry about'. Changez insists on buying his new American friend tea, and then a meal, insisting that this is traditional Lahore hospitality. As the evening progresses, he begins to tell his life story; a story of success which includes an American education at Princetown, a successful career with a large New York corporation, and a relationship with a rich American society girl. The evening seems relaxed and entertaining, but as Changez relates the way that his brilliant career starts to fall into decline after the 9/11 tragedy, so the atmosphere subtly changes. All of a sudden the American's suspicions do not seem so ridiculous , the reader starts to see menace in Changez' tone, and as the tension mounts, we start to wonder who is in control of this chance meeting - is there a more sinister motive, and if so, who is the aggressor and who is the victim?
I started this book feeling fairly bored with the whole setting, reading it as a comment on culture and class rather than looking for a deeper meaning. As I progressed I realised that I was looking at a puzzle, reading a thriller and feeling the tension that is associated with menace. The ability of Mohisin Hamid to create this tension through a monologue is amazing, but emphasises the delicacy of the whole book. Nothing is ever openly stated, and this fits absolutely perfectly with the timbre and tone of Changez' voice. It is almost a cultural subtlety - clothed in formal phrases and polite tones. His disillusion with American consumerism, the get rich quick society, and his gradual decline from Golden boy to bearded suspect is mapped slowly and convincingly. His own feelings are never shown or spoken - the reader is left to conclude whatever he will.
The main impact of the book comes through Changez' voice. Always polite, cultured and grammatically correct but structured in a way that makes it clear that he is not a native English speaker, there is a strange malice to his story that gradually makes the reader more and more uncomfortable. The words he speaks are apparently direct and open, but you never know - is there a veiled threat behind his words? Is the irony that we read into his sentences really there? The voice is everything, creating the atmosphere of the smoky Lahore café without any evocative descriptive paragraphs. When Changez moves on to describe his life in America the words are just as plain. This book is describing people, reactions, events - there is no extravagant scene setting. The threats felt by a Muslim in New York after the 9/11 attacks is described in poignant detail - the suspicious looks, the predominance of the American flag, the sense of a nation closing in on itself and shutting out the foreigner.
I enjoyed the tension and the understatement in this book. It took a little while to get into the rhythm of the gently evolving story and the cadence of the speech, but once I learnt to read beneath the surface I was enthralled. At the end of the book, my first reaction was, 'Is that it?', but this is a complex story, and I found that I thought about the ending in many different ways, interpreting both the dialogue and the ending over and over again, finding something very different every time.
Beautifully written, gradually building tension through excellent construction, this novel manages to describe the complex emotions and fears raised by 9/11 from both sides of the world.
The novel was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize and has won several other awards.
Most excellent novels have a foundation in personal experience, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the life of Mohsin Hamid echoes that of Changez. Born in Lahore, he completed his education in America and graduated from Princeton University in 1993.He spent several years working as a management consultant in New York, before finally settling down in London in 2001. This is his second novel, but he also writes essays on politics, art and travel as well as journalistic pieces for the major newspapers.
First published by Hamish Hamilton, 2007
209 pages, ISBN 9780141029542
Available new from Amazon from £4.48
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a novel by Mohsin Hamid. The novel is written in an unusual way, where a Pakistani man is talking to an American man in a cafe. Throughout the book we do not hear the American man speak, as the whole book is the main character talking. We do however hear his reaction through Changez, as he gradually gets more nervous as Changez recounts his time in America and gradually abandonment of America.
The novel is written in a well-thought out and interesting way, and Mohsin Hamid deserves credit in how he keeps the reader interested throughout the novel with this style of writing which could easily become boring.
We gradually learn more about Changez as the story goes on, his love of America than the distrust he is subject to after the September 11 terrorist attacks. His relationship with the American man he is telling his story to is unclear until the end. The Relunctant Fundamentalist can be hard to get through at times, but the reader is rewarded with an interesting story of Changez' life in America.
At a café in an old part of Lahore, a Pakistani man treats a mysterious and a rather nervous American to a story of his encounter - and disillusionment - with the American Dream. A scion of a old family of Pakistani professionals, who still remember the old but now faded glories, he goes to Princeton on a special scholarship and on graduation is recruited by an elite firm of business valuers. New York is a revelation - a cosmopolitan centre of the most advanced technological civilisation in the world - a country in itself - and his drive and talents are recognised and appreciated, while he doesn't question either the life he's personally living or the values of the world he's joined.
The attacks of September 11 come as a shock and what follows is a brilliant description of Changez', well, change (the name pun is one of the few annoyances in what's otherwise a brilliant book). His initial reaction rang very true to me: a strong pang of guilty satisfaction at the symbolism of the event, even if followed by the horrified realisation of the immediate human cost (I felt like that - and I am neither Muslim nor Asian!).
What follows is an unravelling of the Americanisation of Changez'. It is painted in sharp, quick strokes, but very convincingly. What I particularly relished was that Hamid avoided the temptation of making his character victimised in any way: he's not persecuted or singled out and even his small defiant symbolic gestures of reasserting his own ethic identity in the face of America invading New York (eg keeping a beard after returning from a holiday visit to Pakistan) pass without meaningful consequences: he hears of beatings and harassments, but he himself is cushioned from that by the money and status of his newly acquired career, and possibly just lucky: being called a fucking Arab is the worst that happens to him personally.
And yet he changes: reconsiders his allegiances, responsibilities and the right and wrongs of the situation, he eventually (with a little input from a communist Chilean bookseller) completely re-evaluates his position. There is no mystery about the end of Changez' American episode (after all we meet him in a Lahore café), although there is mystery about all that happens to him after he leaves New York.
We only have his own - increasingly brief - account of what he does after returning to Pakistan and becoming a business studies university lecturer, and the real end of his story unravels in front of our eyes to stay forever ambiguous, suspended in the mid-gesture.
Despite low page count, there are big themes in "The Reluctant Fundamentalist": the change, of course, and the engines of the change, the loss and nostalgia for the past seen through rosy spectacles - both personal and historical; belonging and assimilation, the attractions of becoming a janissary for the American empire and the feeling of looking always from the outside; and of course there is America, seen in its glory of its peak achievement - the corporate efficiency - with all the resulting perks and attractions, but also revealed in its imperial monstrosity.
There is a personal strand there as well, a vague and doomed love story which adds balance to the whole tale, but which, in some ways, does nothing to move it forward: I don't think the book would have been better without it, but the way it fits into the symbolism of the whole is almost too easy. I am in two minds about it, really, with a feeling that it could be much better, but it doesn't really matter that much.
Stylistically, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is short, taut and piercingly clever despite - or maybe thanks to - stylised formal language of Changez' narration. Compulsively readable and very skilfully written, it's unusual structure brought some echoes of eastern Scheherazade-like tale-telling, and the one-sided dialogue, where the replies and behaviour of the interlocutor get to the reader only via the narrator's paraphrases give an immediacy of eavesdropping.
The suspense provided by this framing exceeds the suspense of the story related by Changez; and as the progress of Changez' story is mirrored by the falling of the night ad the transformations of the street, the tension heightens. Throughout, a game is played with the mysterious American as much as a game is played with the reader, and we never know for sure who is leading whom on. The ending is a master-stroke: both duplicitous and somehow inevitable, it could hardly be bettered and provides the most chilling political commentary in the whole book.
I have been wondering about the staying power of Hamid's book: how much of it will remain when we all forget the almost-forgotten Afghanistan war (as most of us probably already forgot the India-Pakistani tensions that are the main fuel of Changez' transformation); when we forget the renditions scandal (so crucial and yet only very briefly hinted in the text). Sadly, it's hard to imagine US agents ceasing to venture abroad to carry out their secret imperial assignments: I can't envisage The Reluctant Fundamentalist losing its topicality for quite a while yet.
Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1 Mar 2007; Hardback 224 pages; paperback due in April
This review was originally written for www.thebookbag.co.uk.
At a cafe table in Lahore, a Pakistani man begins the tale that has led to his fateful meeting with an uneasy American stranger...Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. He thrives on the energy of New York, his work at an elite firm, and his budding relationship. For a time, it seems that nothing will stand in the way of his meteoric rise to success. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his relationship crumbling and his exalted status overturned. Allegiances are subsequently unearthed, proving themselves more fundamental than money, power and maybe even love.