I read Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' earlier on this summer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Here's the post on it from the archives:
June 25, 2007The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an enchanting monologue that strips the east-west divide to its barest. Mohsin Hamid has written a very engaging piece of literature that captures the essence of what it means to be a Muslim in the USA in this current day and age. It is to be noted that Hamid wrote the first draft of this novel while living in London, a few months before the September 11 tragedy.
There are two outstanding things about this novel: its language and its structure. The language of the novel makes it come alive, and some of the images that Hamid conjures are remarkable. For instance, the one about recruitment time on the Princeton campus where "Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters ... and showed them some skin... I was something special. I was a perfect breast... tan, succulent, seemingly defiant of gravity...". What a rousing description that is! Hamid certainly has a way with words to capture a readers imagination into willing submission. Hamid's narration of the story, a monologue, is another stroke of genius where the reader is lead up alleys to explore and experience the illustrious past of this mellow sounding, yet eerie narrator, Changez; also the chief protagonist of the novel. The fact that: the monologue is taking place in a small cafe in Lahore, the narrator is a bearded Pakistani educated at Princeton and a one time resident and lover of New York, and the listener is a fidgety and nervous American visitor, lends a sense of uncertainty and suspense to the entire proceeding, which is but a few hours long. The reader is at edge by the end of the novel wondering whether the narrator, a Janisarry of sorts, is a predator or the prey.
Mohsin Hamid may have gotten lucky with the timing of this novel, the subject of which is instant fodder for an Islamophobic world. What he intended the protagonist to be, would be interesting to know because Changez the chief protagonist of the novel appears rather fickle and rash for all his academic and corporate astuteness. The turning point in the novel seems all too sudden and implausible in the light of who Changez is. It is this that made me wonder about the changes, if any, Hamid may have made in the novel to accommodate the September 11 tragedy. Did the author bring about changes such that he could ride upon the hysteria of a post 9/11 world?
The title is pretty well chosen in that Changez is perceived a 'fundamentalist' in more ways than one. Also, the reader is compelled to revisit the meaning of the word 'fundamental', and what it constitutes to be a 'fundamentalist', and there is plenty of enlightenment to be gained by this search; the findings of which may be scary. One of which may be that the world has a large number of non-Muslim fundamentalists, many of who are not 'reluctant'!
Mohsin Hamid has repeatedly been asked whether this novel is autobiographical; a question I believe shows blatant disrespect to Art. This query, it is argued, carries some credence because there are many similarities between the author and the chief protagonist Changez: both are Pakistani, are Princeton alumni, have worked in corporate America, and are disillusioned by what's currently happening in the USA. However, Hamid's ending of the novel would put to rest all such questions; it's an ending that opens up a whole new horizon just as the curtains are coming down.
A compelling read that took me less than three hours to read.