The Reluctant Fundamentalist Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid writes so well that were it not for the propulsive force of his quietly building suspense story, the reader would be tempted to linger over passages of elegantly beautiful prose. THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST is a timely book, yes, but it is far more: the novel underscores the talent of a superlative writer unafraid to place before the public a story that is bound to create a disturbing response at the end of the roller coaster ride.
Cleverly written as a monologue from a Pakistani young man named Changez (a name when pronounced delivers major clues to the story!) as he joins an American in a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan. The story reveals a young lad from a family once well to do in Pakistan, but fractured by the political changes suffered by that country, a lad who goes to America to attend Princeton University where he transforms himself into an 'American stance', performs exceedingly well academically, and joins the wealthy American classmates on jaunts where he encounters the beautiful but mysteriously aloof Erica. Changez and Erica become friends and were it not for Erica's recovering from a loss of her previous lover Chris who died of cancer, the two seem to be destined to become lovers. Erica is from a wealthy family who accepts Changez even more readily when upon graduation he is awarded a position with the prestigious firm Underwood Samson. Changez learns the feeling of the American preoccupation with success and wealth while still being committed to his family ties in Pakistan. While Changez is on a business trip to Manila he watches the 9/11 event and he is surprised that he feels a bit happy that haughty America is being brought to her feet.
Changez returns home finding his physical appearance now a cause for suspicion in the bruised country that afforded him success. He attempts to stay connected with Erica but Erica has retreated into her fragile state of melancholia and is eventually hospitalized. Changez continues his successful climb up the American dream ladder of success until he meets a gentleman Juan-Bautista in Chile who admonishes him that his devotion to his work for American companies might force him to forget the importance of home and family. Changez is changed and his decision regarding his employment, his lack of knowledge of Erica's whereabouts, and his growing anger at America preemptive attacks on countries near his home - all result in his returning to Pakistan, and the encounter with the American at the cafe. And Hamid leaves us there, afloat on a sea of questions and new information about the people we have been attacking and the result is a pungent experience in re-thinking the global atmosphere.
The book is relatively short (184 pages) and since it is written as one extended conversation, it is next to impossible not to read the entire book at one sitting: leaving the story even for a moment would be like leaving a personal encounter - rude. The story is superb, written with facile elegance, and contains views from outside our cloistered world that refreshingly informs us to re-examine our point of view. Highly Recommended on every level. Grady Harp, June 07