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The Reluctant Fundamentalist
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"Hamid's second book (after Moth Smoke) is an intelligent and absorbing 9/11 novel, written from the perspective of Changez, a young Pakistani whose sympathies, despite his fervid immigrant embrace of America, lie with the attackers. The book unfolds as a monologue that Changez delivers to a mysterious American operative over dinner at a Lahore, Pakistan, cafe. Pre-9/11, Princeton graduate Changez is on top of the world: recruited by an elite New York financial company, the 22-year-old quickly earns accolades from his hard-charging supervisor, plunges into Manhattan's hip social whirl and becomes infatuated with Erica, a fellow Princeton graduate pining for her dead boyfriend. But after the towers fall, Changez is subject to intensified scrutiny and physical threats, and his co-workers become markedly less affable as his beard grows in ("a form of protest," he says). Erica is committed to a mental institution, and Changez, upset by his adopted country's "growing and self-righteous rage," slacks off at work and is fired."

Mohsin Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke, dealt with the confluence of personal and political themes, and his second, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, revisits that territory in the person of Changez, a young Pakistani. Told in a single monologue, the narrative never flags. Changez is by turns naive, sinister, unctuous, mildly threatening, overbearing, insulting, angry, resentful, and sad. He tells his story to a nameless, mysterious American who sits across from him at a Lahore cafe. Educated at Princeton, employed by a first-rate valuation firm, Changez was living the American dream, earning more money than he thought possible, caught up in the New York social scene and in love with a beautiful, wealthy, damaged girl. The romance is negligible; Erica is emotionally unavailable, endlessly grieving the death of her lifelong friend and boyfriend, Chris.

Changez is in Manila on 9/11 and sees the towers come down on TV. He tells the American, "...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..." When he returns to New York, there is a palpable change in attitudes toward him, starting right at immigration. His name and his face render him suspect.

Ongoing trouble between Pakistan and India urge Changez to return home for a visit, despite his parents' advice to stay where he is. While there, he realizes that he has changed in a way that shames him. "I was struck at first by how shabby our house appeared... I was saddened to find it in such a state... This was where I came from... and it smacked of lowliness." He exorcises that feeling and once again appreciates his home for its "unmistakable personality and idiosyncratic charm." While at home, he lets his beard grow. Advised to shave it, even by his mother, he refuses. It will be his line in the sand, his statement about who he is. His company sends him to Chile for another business valuation; his mind filled with the troubles in Pakistan and the U.S. involvement with India that keeps the pressure on. His work and the money he earns have been overtaken by resentment of the United States and all it stands for.

Hamid's prose is filled with insight, subtly delivered: "I felt my age: an almost childlike twenty-two, rather than that permanent middle-age that attaches itself to the man who lives alone and supports himself by wearing a suit in a city not of his birth." In telling of the janissaries, Christian boys captured by Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in the Muslim Army, his Chilean host tells him: "The janissaries were always taken in childhood. It would have been far more difficult to devote themselves to their adopted empire, you see, if they had memories they could not forget." Changez cannot forget, and Hamid makes the reader understand that--and all that follows. --Valerie Ryan

A Conversation with Mohsin Hamid
Set in modern-day Pakistan, Mohsin Hamid's debut novel, Moth Smoke, went on to win awards and was listed as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His bold new novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is a daring, fast-paced monologue of a young Pakistani man telling his life story to a mysterious American stranger. It's a controversial look at the dark side of the American Dream, exploring the aftermath of 9/11, international unease, and the dangerous pull of nostalgia. senior editor Brad Thomas Parsons shared an e-mail exchange with Mohsin Hamid to talk about his powerful new book

Read the Interview with Mohsin Hamid

Customer Reviews:

  • Meaning of the title
    The title is a double entendre. The protagonist is "reluctant" to work for an American company. And what does the company do? They specialize in using "fundamentals" for valuation analysis. Ha....more info
  • Brilliant
    Best book I've read in ages. Absolutely floored me. I was so into it that I read it at my desk at work because I had to find out what happened next.

    Instantly jumps to the top of my list of books I recommend to other people....more info
  • This book elicits contempt
    The author apparently want to use the American system and American freedoms to demonstrate his distain for both America and Americans, and this fool spent money to buy it.

    A Pakastani comes to enjoy the privilege of a Princeton education, is fortunate enough to land a lucrative job and is befriended my NY upper crust. All this is never humbly appreciated. Instead the main character is gratified when the planes hit the World Trade Center. He procedes to kick his boss in the teeth by sabotaging an important business assignment and then returns to Pakistan to revel in his self-righteous persecution complex, and perhaps even to become a terrorist.

    Any American who gives this book a favorable review must not only be blind but stupid too, not knowing what side their bread is buttered on.

    Frankly both the author and the main character deserve no sympathy. Instead of winning support for his/their cause the author elicits contempt.

    If foreigners don't like American policy or American people the solution is simple enough: STAY HOME. Don't enjoy our freedom, our prosperity, our education system, and -thank God so far- our peaceful way of life.

    The author is upset that the USA didn't pressure India -----well I suppose had the USA pressed Pakistan Pakistan would be upset and if the US pressured India then the Indians would be upset. Even governments can't please all the people all the time. The US government's role to protect US interests. That's why they make the big bucks. Right? Unlike islamic governments who make the big bucks (royal family, sadamm's sones, etc.) while the bulk of their citizenry live in poverty.

    Two glaring omissions: the author failured to attribute any wrongdoing to any islamic governments (Hey Hamid do you know Jews are banned from Saudi Arabia, do think Iran should wipe Israel off the map?) and the author failed to address the hideousness of islam itself (women are less than cattle).

    I, for one, am exhuated by these hypocrytical ingrates who exploit our country while hoping or working for its demise.
    Are you American? Don't waste your money on this trash! Putting money in the publisher and the author's pocket will not change US policy....more info
  • An Insightful Novel, Often Over-Simplified in Reviews Below
    Interesting view of the U.S. through a fictitious Pakistani's eyes as his spirit deteriorates due to the political and personal events he endures. Periodically, somewhat affected voice due to the style of narration, but a nonetheless quick and compelling read.

    I think some reviewer have conflated the narrator's voice with the author's. I doubt very much that Mohsin Hamid agrees with every word he placed in the mouth his narrator's mouth. (This should go without saying, but we live in very literal and very divisive times.) Rather he was showing how the narrator's character change was precipitated by a number events (again both political and personal), which he weathered. In other words, the narrator's anger towards the United States was inextricably wound up with his pain at losing his lover. He was unable to tease these apart and it lead him into a different, more volatile state of mind. The fact that Hamid can demonstrate this unraveling makes him a sensitive writer and a keen observer of the human condition, not an advocate for terrorism. That said, the book does include some pointed and relevant criticism of the U.S. I just think it's an oversimplification to assume Hamid's giving the narrator's point of view a big thumbs up. It's a richer, more sophisticated narrative than that....more info
  • Engrossing Novel
    This is an engrossing novel that takes place solely in a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan. A young man who attended Princeton and lived in New York City is trying to explain to a reluctant American why he is feeling compelled to... do what? ...more info
  • Aha, I see that you are reading my review of this book...
    Would you like to have some tea or coffee before you continue? By all means, please do. I sometimes have hot chocolate, but I cannot tell if you have a reliable source of quality hot chocolate nearby so I will not presume to tell you what you should drink, if anything. Although it is frequently said, where I come from, that we should all be drinking water. "Drink more water" they say. But that makes me pee all the time, so I often don't bother.

    Yes, yes, I'm sorry, I forgot - you are busy and you asked me to be brief, so let me cut to the chase, so to speak. My opinion is that the book is a memorable one. The story will surely weave itself as easily into your mind as it did into mine. You might be surprised, as I was, by how clear the characters are drawn given the nauseating form of narrative employed.

    Did I really say that? I guess I did. No, no, I didn't mean that you shouldn't read the book, by all means go ahead and read it. Buy it. Read it. Lend it to your friends. Put it on your shelf and pull it down again to read it repeatedly... as you prefer. But really, the second person singular? It's quite trying and a little tiresome.

    Oh, you want to give it a chance, you think it can't be all that bad? Well, you're right. It's not all that bad. But it's not all that great either.

    Indeed yes, by all means, please read some of the other reviews, I read some of them myself too you know, quite interesting. My hot chocolate? I finished it some time ago and it was quite delicious thank you. No, I don't like marshmellows. Strange that.

    Indeed, me too. Bye for now......more info
  • Compelling in many ways, but disturbing and finally disappointing
    I love the narration of this novel, the escalating tension, the way the author manages to convey the character of the nameless and faceless American listener in the cafe. The story is also compelling and the novel raises questions that we should at least think about, even if we don't find them comfortable or agree with the actions or viewpoints of the character Changez.

    Some of the other reviews here have been excessively harsh. I personally did not think Changez is a religious "fundamentalist"--nowhere in the text does he reveal a belief in Islamic fundamentalism. He isn't even a religious character. Ironically, the primary times when "fundamental" appears is with respect to the "fundamentals first" approach of the ruthless Wall Street firm where Changez works--reluctantly. So I understood the book's title to refer to Changez' growing reluctance to be a part of the capitalist machinery. Where does he become a Muslim fundamentalist? He doesn't. Some reviewers also need to remember that Changez is a fictional character, not an actual guy--and please don't confuse the fictional narrator with the author.

    That being said, some of the reviews give excessive praise. It does seem to me that if part of the author's goal is to provide insight into the perspective of the immigrant or sympathy for the immigrant's divided loyalties, the book fails by actually *perpetuating* stereotypes rather than challenging them. The writing itself is so strong and captivating that not until I completed the book did I realize how thin and stereotypical Changez turns out to be. There just isn't a lot of insight here. Changez finally comes across as shallow, superficial, self-absorbed, and entitled (in short, all the things he criticizes in American society).

    I also felt perturbed by the fact that Changez' perceptions of America are gleaned solely from his interactions at the highest echelon of society. The corner of America in which he functions is indeed ruthless and elitist--towards the majority of our own citizens as well. But the upper-crust Ivy League aspect of America is not the whole country, and Changez draws his conclusions about America based on his interactions with a very small portion of it.

    In the end, Hamid posits an excessively simplistic binary opposition that fails to satisfy. Hamid is a brilliant writer and has developed an effective literary device, but in the long run I found myself too disturbed to continue identifying with Changez, and disappointed that crucial opportunities for insights into cross-cultural conflicts were lost. I finished the book with the fear that such a simplistic approach will do more harm than good when it comes to promoting understanding, tolerance, and peace....more info
  • Fellow Finance-Junkie Turn Novelist is a Fan
    I feel a kinship with this author as I am also a former finance-junkie (Partner in a Private Equity Firm) of South Asian descent before becoming a novelist when I wrote "Imposters at the Gate: A Novel about Private Equity". My "keyboard brother" has done a great job in grappling with issues of cultural identity and pointing out how corporate ideals are incongruent when applied to one's personal life. We see this when the mantra of the firm that his boss espouses, stick to the "fundamentals" provides a response in vast contrast to the firm's expectations when Changez applies this to his personal life. My novel pursues a similar story construct, but is ethically motivated and not politically. I'm looking forward to his future work....more info
  • It could have been so much more
    I am not shy about criticizing US foreign policy and our nation's hubris. There are many legitimate reasons to dislike the US government. This book is based on none of them. In contrast to millions of people around the world, the protagonist was issued a visa to come to the US, attended one of the top colleges in the US and was selected over hundreds of applicants for a plum US job with a high salary. He is surrounded by people who like him, look out for him and care for him. Yet when the 9/11 attacks happen, he smiles and is pleased. Why? He doesn't really say - it appears to be based on his personal, cultural identity crisis and a reference to American belligerence (which, though true, is not tied in personally to the protagonist at all). He seethes with anger when the US attacks the Taliban in Afghanistan. He apparently but inexplicably sympathizes with his murderous, iron-fisted, women-hating neighbors. This book seems to have been written in a hurry, the author neglecting to provide any legitimate foundation for the protagonist's antipathy to the US. Certainly it could have been done and the reader is truly left wondering why the author chose to omit history in favor of assuming that the reader would agree the protagonist's feelings were justified. It is particularly confusing when told from the viewpoint of a well-educated, supposedly intellectual man who should have seen that hard diplomacy is a much sharper weapon than violence.

    I found the author's writing style (the protagonist speaking to a man with no voice and no apparent reason to be there other than as an excuse to poke more fun at Americans) annoying and disruptive of what little flow the book had. Another stylistic tool - the dash! - is ubiquitous and entirely distracting. Truly, this book could have been so much more had the author put more time (and perhaps research) into it. It could have been a bridge to explain to a mass audience Muslims' frustration with America. It utterly fails in this regard and in the end I fear it will only be used as fuel by those who believe that Islam is a violent faith....more info
  • Competently-written, makes the stupidity of anti-Americanism understandable
    If Hamid's protagonist shares his view of America with much of the world, then it's easy to understand why America is hated... because we're envied. Yes, the protagonist of this tale resents America because he believes America does not sufficiently respect other cultures, and therefore we deserve to be humbled. Nothing personal, said the reluctant fundamentalist, America forced him to hate us despite his reluctance.

    The book is the story of a Pakistani's infatuation with, and then resentment of America. Not because America has treated him badly, quite the contrary. Because "America" is seen as proud and boastful, but really because America doesn't treat other countries with sufficient "respect."

    I read it, hoping for a good story. I believe the author wrote it in order to tell us what is wrong with America. Instead, I obtained an understanding of what is wrong with much of the rest of the world. I personally didn't find the protagonist sympathetic because I didn't buy his justifications, nor did the author allow the protagonist to convincingly argue his justifications. The author's stated purpose was to get us to look at 9/11 and anti-Americanism from "the other point of view." In that he was successful. However, he utterly failed in the task of convincing the reader (or, at least, this reader) of the merits of "the other point of view."

    Comparing it to other first-person books? It doesn't compare to, say, Grisham's "The Rain Maker." It's not as well-written, the plot isn't as engaging, and the characters are one-dimensional. I was expecting more, especially noting that this book received an award, but now I think the award was given primarily in support of the author/protagonist viewpoint, similar to the reason "An Inconvenient Truth" was critically praised.

    I won't spoil the plot, but the ending evidently shows yet more of what is wrong with America (our suspicion, distrust, and stereotyping)... yet I look at it as what is wrong with Pakistan, and the protagonist, especially knowing what happened to Daniel Pearl.

    I'd recommend borrowing this book, but I don't know about buying it. Oh, well, at least I paid less for it on the Kindle.

    ...more info
  • REluctant Fundamentalist
    I read this book as a choice for a book club. It was a good read and prompted much discussion. It was interesting to read in that the author spoke as if in conversation. It also enlightened us as to the thinking and feelings of many of other cultures....more info
  • The Reluctant admirer of this novel
    I read this book within a couple of days. Although it's a bit long winded, I was enthralled by this man's story. In a sense he became exactly the same as his beloved Erica which fused his thoughts to become warped. This is not a man who simply condemns America but re-learns to love his own country and return to his roots. Maybe by rejecting his life in the US, he will come to find himself again. So much was happening when his transformation began. I just hope that the ending really isn't what I think it is. I can only hope....more info
  • naive and pretentious ... average book
    Apart from the basic flow of the plot, there are certain areas which the author needs to focus on in his future works, these may be technicalities, but it sometimes can kill the overall concept of enjoying a good book, if strayed from excessively.

    usage of double negatives (not unlikely, not insignificant etc.. even used contextually, can be highly irritating after a certain point.

    I was amused as to how the author, in almost a sophomoric beavis & butthead kind of way, addresses Jim's sexuality.

    Very poor character study done of the protagonist, does not make sense to hate Americans and at the same time engage in such a conversation of such personal depth with a complete stranger, who happens to be a yank.

    Isn't the whole servile approach of South east Asians towards "gora" (means white man in Hindi) done to death, and saturated in every book and media? Its silly for him (the bearded 'reluctant fundamentalist') to talk in such a way, for a princeton educated boy. You would think his dialogue would sound more confident, with purpose, not some 'sahib' rambling.

    His paragraph regarding the 'happy' reaction to 9/11 has zero bearing to the plot whatsoever and one begins to wonder whether it was how the Author himself personally felt towards 9/11, that he is subliminally bringing out in the book.

    The one issue that remains at large is the crucial point of how the story of Janissaries, are twisted in this story. A Muslim will always be a Muslim first and foremost, country and community comes only after that a distant second and third.

    Overall, this is an author who shows good promise and i would look forward to reading his future works, provided he does better research and shows a bit more maturity in his approach of character study.
    ...more info
  • Kindle version of this book full of errors - otherwise great read
    This is a fantastic book but suggest you might want to buy the paper version. My Kindle version is literally riddled with typos and missing words. This is the first book I bought for my new Kindle and I'm sorely disappointed. I hope this is not indicative of all Kindle books....more info
  • Wonderfully nuanced insight into Pakistan and the US
    I was hooked at the first page. I love the narrator's style: you are the listener and can just imagine sitting opposite Changez in Lahore's Old Anarkali: definitely those who have been, and I hope also those who have not. Since, I believe, this book gives a wonderfully nuanced insight into the beautiful hospitable country Pakistan is and how external events and categorisations trigger in people emotions that are often misunderstood and which trigger further events into a vicious circle.

    It is not a pessimistic book, but a personal recount which could lead to breaking the vicious circle of mistrust by bringing better understanding through a beautiful piece of prosa!...more info
  • Author under an influence
    From the beginning Erica makes it clear that she does not desire a sexual relationship. In fact she is reluctant to have much of any kind of a relationship. The first time sex is attempted she regresses into the depression she has recently somewhat recovered from. The entire courtship is pushed by the author, showing his disdain for women and his belief that as a man what he wants is primary. He has little respect for Erica as a person, only to supply what he wants.

    About his hatred for America and Americans: How are we Americans to feel about people who, in order to kill Benazir Bhutto, are willing to attach the bomb to a baby? ...more info
  • Interesting...yet rushed
    This book was not what I expected at all. That doesn't mean anything good or bad, it was just really different from what I had imagined upon picking it up. Changez is a young Pakistani man telling his story to an American he encounters in his hometown. Changez tries to calm the man's fears, telling him that he has lived in America and is pleased to offer hospitality to the stranger. Changez tells his story: a highly intelligent Princeton graduate who goes to work for an elite New York firm and falls in love with a beautiful American woman. Changez is torn in his new life: he loves his work, spending time with Erica, and truly feels as if he is a New Yorker (although not necessarily an American); but his heart and mind keep returning to Pakistan, especially after the 9/11 attacks and the escalation of tension between his homeland and India.

    This short book packs a pretty large punch. It demonstrates how a man a normal, everyday human being, accepted and even admired one day; can turn into a fundamentalist, almost without noticing. The line is quite fine in Changez's life. Interesting premise and book, although it did feel a bit too rushed towards the end. ...more info
  • Small book that packs a tremendous emotional wallop!
    It's only 184 pages and a fast read. But don't let the size of this book fool you. It has a tremendous emotional wallop. It pulled me in, turned me inside out and then slammed me down again. It's rare for a book to do that to me.

    A bearded Pakistani man, Changez, sits down in a caf¨¦ next to an American in Lahore, Pakistan and begins a monologue that lasts throughout the entire book. He speaks about the food and the sights of the city in between telling his tale of his own life in America. Changez was privileged. He graduated from Princeton and then was hired by a prestigious financial consulting firm. He meets an American girl and falls in love. She still longs for a dead boyfriend and we soon see that nostalgia turning into mental instability. Changez is nostalgic too. He misses his homeland and is lives through a tangle of complex emotions when the World Trade Center is attacked on 9/11. His view of his privileged American life starts to change.

    The writer is skilled. The voice of Changez is steady and strong. In between telling his life story, there is a meal being served and there will be a sudden switch in the narrative from his life story as he directs his conversation to the American about the meal for a few sentences. Then he will get back to his story, and, even though his words are always sugar coated polite phrases, at times there is an undercurrent of menace which builds slowly to the conclusion.

    I must admit that couldn't stand the tension and read the last page early in my reading but it still didn't stop me from keeping my eyes glued to the fast turning pages with my heart racing.

    This book is an exceptional piece of writing. Highly recommended.
    ...more info
  • Excellent narrative
    Moshin Hamid writes a fictional narrative of an apparently chance encounter between a Pakistani and an American on a market street in Lahore. From there it builds to an interesting conclusion. I found the perspective of middle-eastern politics since and history from a Pakistani writer's viewpoint refreshing and informative. It is a smooth and fast read that manages to keep the pace moving throughout the book....more info
  • Condescending and lacking in forward momentum
    The story of "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is unique and entertaining in the sense that it offers a viewpoint often left un-embraced in American war-obsessed media. Told from a first-person perspective, the story reveals a Pakistani's short life in America, attending an Ivy League school, working a well-paying job, and suddenly--and quite unconvincingly--turning against the United States on moral grounds after a "hand of God" conversion by a Chilean bookstore owner (who, arguably, used his rhetorical skills solely to save his business, not out of passion for the moral ideals he passed on to the narrator).

    The structure of the novel is built around a one-way "conversation" between the Pakistani narrator and an American tourist. This set-up lends itself to animosities toward the narrator, in that only he is given the opportunity to speak, causing all of his commentary to come across as negative assumptions. The narrator is so well-spoken and carefully manipulative with his words that even when he dismisses hostilities with his words there hides an agenda designed to patronize and condescend.

    All in all, the narrator is quite unlikable, however the story is redeeming considering the rare viewpoint from which it is told.
    ...more info
    I am hastening firstly to explain that I normally avoid fiction that has won a prize or been shortlisted for a prize, particularly British prizes, and most definitely that I avoid paying for them. However, one is occasionally obliged to read them, so I do so diligently and quickly to get the duty out of the way. Rather like eating your boiled cabbage first. Secondly, to whom is story likely to appeal - who will like this novella? To answer this, see the title of my review, which comes from a tabloid article on the acronymous notations which doctors (particularly GPs) allegedly make on our case notes - eg, `GOK'= God Only Knows, and `UBI'=Unexplained Beer Injury. I read these articles avidly, as they say so much in so short a space, and I am sometimes convinced of their accuracy. So it is that the last article I read has `GROLIES'=Guardian Reader Of Limited Intelligence in Ethnic Skirt, and it to this class of person that I commend this story. (Guardian - socialista UK newspaper.)

    Bright young man from Pakistan goes to Princeton, gets prestige job in New York as business analyst valuing companies (eg, for flotation on stock market, or selling on). Meets American girl. 9/11 happens. Things go pear-shaped. Bright less-young man is back in Pakistan and meets an American tourist and sort-of has an astoundingly long conversation with him as the tourist drinks tea. The tone is calm, the story very eventful but even-paced and retrospective whilst still maintaining a rooted in the now feel.

    The prose is literate but not written as by one who rejoices in the full-blooded Anglo-Saxon-Latinate-Greco-British Empireness of the English language. The grammatical structures of another language lurk beneath the English cadence, and there is a sense of having been fluently translated-as-written from a foreign thought pattern into good English, which subtly avoids being instinctual English. The interior monologue style is tiresomely stifling and palls on the page, the first page in fact, as a stranger who approached an American tourist in that manner anywhere, let alone in Pakistan, would be dismissed as a lunatic or creep of some sort. It reminds me of a mangled, uneven, ill-at-ease `Catcher In The Rye' first person POV technique. The story is clearly to some extent autobiographical, as the back cover blurb itself makes clear as it echoes the central character's experiences in the author's life. This adds to the rich detail and vividness, and naturally works well with the first person-ess of it all. The descriptions of food and buildings in both places are good as far as they go, but are not enough to bridge the gap or glue it all together. Rather like a cheese grater on mild Cheddar.

    Our sensitive protagonist is alienated from the US culture, but not as in Catcher in the Rye because he is disorientated by coming to terms with the world of crass and superficial adult hypocrisies which he will all too soon leave school to embark upon himself, unless he is strong enough and quick enough to define his own principles and start to live by them as he means to go on. No, our protagonist is of an alien culture and alone in his personal bubble. He outwardly and materially succeeding in his work but is inwardly isolated and not adopting the country which has adopted him. He is an actor and a spectator at the same time but never really at ease in his own skin. He does not suspect that America is built on deeper and greater foundations than simple meritocracy, essential though that is. (Forget not that the ever-recurrent pernicious tendency to promote on other than merit was long ago skewered by Socrates, who asked his listeners did they prefer to be treated when ill by the most skilled doctor available, or take the advice of their friends who were skilled in shoe-making or horse-riding?)

    Although the story is nominally rooted in our 21st century clash of cultures and the war on terror there is no sense of the real motivations that underlie jihadism and deep roots of the conflict. The reference to the janissaries is grossly misused, as they were abducted and enslaved, but he is a volunteer. This distinction makes the two not just worlds apart, but makes all the difference in any world. The emotional pivot of the story is the flash of truth in the protagonist's inner reaction to the 9/11 attack. The moral compass and generic intellectual background of the protagonist are socialist-sympathy-for-poor concerns. But you have to make wealth before you can distribute it. The protagonist is unable to truly engage with the spontaneous order and success of the free market, even though (in the story) having at one level fully comprehendingly encountered it and successfully taken part in it as a high-powered business analyst. Many a businessman understands business but economics not all. But this poor character does not really even understand business. Buying and selling requires two parties, and they both must benefit, or they do not do business. Simple as that. And the business does not guarantee anything beyond that, even though all prosperity and wealth flow from it and it alone. What you do with it is up to you. Irony within irony, but socialist is as socialist does. This is the heart of the story, but it is an empty heart. It reminds of why I avoid shortlisted books, I am fearful of why they were really shortlisted. ...more info
  • A complex story of sense of self and sense of place
    This book is absorbing and hard to put down. I read it in one afternoon. The plot is that of a young Pakistani who has gone through Princeton with complete financial aid and, as the author writes, "invited into the ranks of the meritocracy," by being hired by a top notch valuation firm in NYC. At first he fits in beautifully. Or does he? The initial interview with Jim from the firm makes him "uncomfortable," and "puts him off balance." And we find that he's been covering up the fact that he had to hold three jobs at Princeton. And when he's offered the job, he had the sense that perhaps this job would "transform my life." At first it did as he threw himself into it, impressing everyone with his intelligence and energy. But on the first project in Manila, before finding out about the 9/11 events, the narrator finds himself being stared at with hostility by a jitney driver. "...his dislike was so obvious, so intimate, that it got under my skin....I remained preoccupied with this matter far longer than I should have, pursuing several possibilities that all assumed--as their unconscious starting point--that he and I shared a sort of Third world sensibility." He then feels disconnected from his colleagues but again the work takes over and these feelings are forgotten until a day or so later when watching TV he sees the collapse of the WTC buildings. And one could say the life he has been living unravels from there and he ends up back in Pakistan talking to this mysterious American at a cafe in Lahore.

    The feelings of alienation and confusion come across strongly in the author's writing. On one level you can read this book as a look at a Muslim experiencing the world after the events on 9/11. This will resonate with some readers and probably alienate others. On another level you can read it as the story of anyone who has moved from one world to another whether by changing countries, social class, or educational levels from the background they come from. Here it leaves the genre of "thriller" and becomes a very human story of one man trying to reconcile competing desires and values in a complex world.

    The ending is ambiguous and I appreciated that. There are no cut and dried answers to the issues raised in the course of the evening's discussion.

    My only criticism of the story is the almost uni-dimensional character of Erica. The dialogue between the two is often stilted and she basically comes across as not quite there. That's why I gave the book four stars. ...more info
  • Real Connection with Narrator
    A fantastically written book that pulls the reader in emotionally, as if the narrator was a personal aquaintance rather than a fictional character (I found myself wanting to yell "NO!" out loud on more than one occasion). The plot is so real it is still hard for me to believe this is a fictional novel at all.

    The entire book is a one-sided conversation between the Pakistani protagonist, Changez, and an American visitor. Changez gives a riveting history of his time in the United States, from his enrollment at Princeton at age 18 to his return to Pakistan at age 22. It is amazing the transformation he goes through in the post-9/11 era. Throughout the novel we also learn of a romance that folds in upon itself.

    Overall, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a powerful, emotional read that may just give you a new set of eyes in regard to America's post-9/11 policies....more info
  • Well written and thought provoking . . .
    First some caveats. From its cleverly misleading title to its ambiguous ending, this post-9/11 novella promises somewhat more than it delivers. Written as a long ancient mariner-like monologue, it tells a story of a journey from Pakistan to America and then back again. In its attempt to blend the personal with the political, it chooses a curious angle by dwelling at length on the subject of nostalgia. A wealthy, attractive young American woman falls victim to a kind of unredeemable mourning for a dead lover, while the Pakistani protagonist and narrator falls into a similar emotional quagmire when she is unable to return his growing love for her. Meanwhile, he understands the reaction of the U.S. to the 9/11 attacks as a kind of nostalgia for a past that no longer exists while riding roughshod in its bruising retaliations on the rest of the world. Juggling an identity in America as an outsider (a Muslim, impoverished by comparison with his fellow students at Princeton), he is mentored, in the high-powered New York consulting firm that hires him, by another self-identifed "outsider," who eventually gives a glimpse into his personal life that openly hints at other reasons to account for his feelings of otherness.

    In interviews, Hamid has said the book is about his ambivalence toward America (love-hate is probably too strong a term for it), but what the book has to say about that is not terribly new or original. Only a reader steadfastly untuned to the rest of the world over the last decade would be surprised by what he has to say about American arrogance and indifference to those who stand in the way of its ambitions and self-interest. Likewise, his decision to leave a lucrative but soulless job will seem rather predictable. And while there's a bit of suspense in the ambiguity of the narrator's intentions (is he benign or malicious?), this element of plot seems grafted on sometimes as a device to maintain the interest of readers unabsorbed by the author's ideas. Well written and thought provoking, the book has its rewarding moments, nonetheless, and deserves a reading....more info
  • what a wonderfully written plot
    The pose is gentle and enticing and you are drawn in like a spider wants you to as you walk unaware into its web. That is how I felt as I was reading the book: tentative and wondering as the plot unfolded. I loved the ending: a journey of life's coincidences and sharp turning points that could so easily change our course forever; or is it forever. A touching love story or was it. very enticing and I am sure each reader will get something different from what I got out of the novel. A lot left to the imagination, but I like that a story teller allows the space for you to create your own scene. ...more info
  • Confusing and unsatisfying
    First of all, I liked the style of this book, and the references to Lahore and New York, and the way the narrator tells the story in some sort of 'you'-perspective. Also it was interesting to hear of the changes in attitude in New York after 9/11 (I also sort of recognised it, in that when I was with my family on Miami Airport for two hours before we went on to some tiny island, my grandfather -who has a moustache and a skin colour that make him look a bit middle eastern- was controlled a lot more at the security point then the rest of us).
    But half way, the story becomes rather confusing. I mean, I could sort of follow the fact that Changez smiled at 9/11 (because I can imagine that to anyone from a coutnry that's feeling rather powerless, it would not -at elast not only- be the deaths of many many people, but simply an attack to the most powerful country in the world, and I can imagine that there are quite some people that resent very powerful countries -especially if they also have big armies and nuclear weapons- and thus, sort of enjoy it when that country gets attacked by something, especially if it's something it can't blast a way in a few days) and although I was very much against it, could also stil get the way he treated Erica.
    But what I did not understand, was that when he felt so lost, he did not either quit his job just right away, nor just quit whining and did his job. I mean, I do not understand why he has to dupe his company so much, and why he betrays everyone like that, or even why he returns. Also, he jumped to a lot of conclusions rather fast, without explaining how he got to those, and that made me realise that although he (the narrator) had told me a lot about his life, I nevertheless did not know or understand him at all, and what I did get to know of him, I did not like (even though in the beginning, I had been inclined to like him because of the beautiful English). I think the book would have been better if the author had actually given us a main character with a personality, instead of this boring, rather bleak character who just follows along his own voice and whatever the author had in mind at the moment.
    Also, I feel like the author started this book with a plan of what he wanted to tell people, then as he went on to write the story, started to like it and went a wholly different way, and then half-way realised he was getting away from his goal, and thus suddenly made a lot of forced changes happen.
    Lastly, I did not understand the ending at all (and at least to me it certainly wasn't 'painfully clear' as the back of the book stated): who is really hunting who? Is the American, who is obviously having a gun, someone who has been sent to capture Chavez, or is it that Chavez and the waiter and so are after the American? Or is it something entirely else? I have no clue to this at all, and I find that very unsatisfying, because when I read a book I'd like to a, understand it when I'm finished and b, for it to have ended by the time I've reached the end.
    In short, a beautifully written, but confusing and unsatisfying book....more info
  • usa
    The Reluctant Fundamentalist was a gift from my sister's British in laws; are they trying to tell me something? It's always interesting to get another perspective, and Hamid's isn't very flattering. He offers up two views of America.
    The first is of our business culture, through the caricature of Underwood Samson. US gets the best and brightest young adults and turns them into robots sent out to reduce everything to fundamentals, i.e. profit. Type of business, employees' lives, even borders do not matter. They will bow down only to the god of profit, to the point of denying their own countrymen their jobs.
    The second view Hamid has of the US is through the character of Erica, a contraction of America. She is effortlessly beautiful, born wealthy, easily commands attention, calls all the shots, knows everybody and everything, and is irresistable to everyone. Only when we get up close and get to know her do we find her hopelessly screwed up. She is living in the past, skating on past glories. She cannot support herself. She is sexually disfunctional, effectively ending her bloodline. Her fate is unclear: does she die or simply disappear?
    These perspectives are explained carefully and graciously to an American in Pakistan almost as a justification for the violence aimed at that same American at the end. The book is unsettling. It's almost better not knowing why were hated, especially if the reasons are largely out of the normal citizen's control.
    It's hard to quantify why something is hated, but The Reluctant Fundamentalist tries to explain why the parts of the Muslim world hate the US to the point of wanting and trying to destroying our country.

    ...more info