The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

February 17, 2010 § 8 Comments

It’s not always that I read a book and not find anything to quote from it. This is one such book. Not because it’s badly written, or because I didn’t enjoy it. Quite the contrary.

In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, our narrator, Changez, is having a conversation with a stranger, an anonymous American at some random café in Lahore. Throughout the entire conversation, we only hear Changez’s voice as he weaves between telling the stranger about his previous life in America as a Princeton graduate, and trying to put the stranger at ease with his surroundings and dispel his suspicions of their bearded waiter. This is happening only a few years after the September 11 attacks, and the distrust between East and West is at an all-time high.

This book reads like a thriller. There’s the build-up as we’re told about Changez’s experiences after he graduated from Princeton. We’re brought along with him to his interview and to his workplace. We’re there as he fights with his co-workers to come out on top, the best of the best. We’re with him when he meets the love of his life. Then, we’re there to see all this fall apart.

There was nothing fancy about the style. It was simple, so simple it was believable that he actually did have this conversations with an anonymous American. It felt easy, smooth. By the time I finished the book, I had a weird floating sensation that I couldn’t explain.

The tension between Changez and the American felt so real. There was the subtle but very telling looking over the shoulder, the suspicious looking food, the reluctance to say much, the frequent and consistent ringing of the cellphone, the too-attentive bearded waiter… These actions, gestures, may seem minute and insignificant, but to me, they encapsulated the whole distrust we have today between the East and West, how fidgety we become when we talk about the increasingly stale relations between Muslims and Christians. There is this heaviness hanging above us, and Mohsin Hamid recreated it and made it personal.

It was  a very thoughtful book, a book that kept me turning its pages. The down side is probably that there were hardly any “Oh my God!” moments. It was always just this creepy feeling like something’s going to happen, something’s going to explode and I’m going to want to hide from it, but that was it; it never really exploded. They say that the fright is in the anticipation and not the bang, and I agree. But somehow, I just wanted that bang, like I wanted a period to end the sentence.

But then again, books that don’t end properly, with their strings all tied up neatly, feel more like life somehow.

Rating: 4.5

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§ 8 Responses to The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

  • farmlanebooks says:

    I wasn’t a fan of this book when I first finished it, but after thinking about it for a while I started to love it. I think the ambiguous ending is fantastic. What you imagine to have happened depends on your prejudice and I thought that was very clever. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it.

    • Michelle says:

      I like your take about the ending. That’s sort of what I thought too, though I think the author did set it up a little. He didn’t really leave it all up entirely to us.

      But you’re definitely right about needing to sit on it for a while. It’s not the kind of book that you’d finish and say, “Wow!”

  • gaskella says:

    I found the monologue style rather irritating, as it kept on breaking off the attend to the trapped audience’s needs, when we wanted to hear more about Changez and Erica. However that built the tension and it did leave you wandering about the dinner partner and what was really happening.

    • Michelle says:

      It did get a little much, the monologue, especially when he was telling the story, and then suddenly talk about the lights going off. But in other parts, I think it worked well, almost like spaces to take a couple of breathers, but the action doesn’t really stop. There’s a different thing going on in the cafe, only paced a lot slower.

  • Nymeth says:

    I’ve had this on my list for a while – I need to get to it. I know what you mean about those unresolved endings feeling more real sometimes.

    • Michelle says:

      Like the comment Farm Lane Books left me *points up*, the ending is almost what you would make of it. He leaves it like a sort of ‘fill-in-the-blank’, and depending on what you’ve read from the actions of the two men, you determine the ending.

  • Half way through the book, I really started disliking the protagonist, specially once he found out about 9/11.

    You review’s brilliant – it does sum up my experience with the book:)

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