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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Author: Mohsin Hamid
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: Recommendation from Wendy

Let me set the scene for you. I think the book cover does it better than I could hope to, so I will share:

At a cafe table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter.

Doesn't that sound intriguing? Along with the title, I had to pick up this book.

The reluctant fundamentalist is a man named Changez. In this book, he relates the story of how he fell out of love with his one-time adoptive homeland of America. To the mysterious American, and the reader, he relates the perfect life he had built for himself in New York. A graduate of Princeton, he'd begun working a high-paying job at the prestigious valuation firm,
Underwood Samson, and spending his spare time courting a beautiful classmate. The turning point, he explains, happened after September 11th.

The change isn't immediate. After 9/11, the ghosts of his girlfriend's past begin to envelop her as she withdraws from him. And as he watches New Yorkers absorb the impact of the terrorist attacks, he begins to question where his loyalty truly lies.

This book gives fresh perspective to an event that has been so picked over, so analyzed, it seems a wonder that there can be anything new to say about it. Through Changez's eyes, we get a glimpse of what the American policies and sudden upsurge of patriotism post 9/11 must have looked like to those who were most deeply affected by the "war on terror". What it must have felt like to be stopped at every security point in the airport, to be looked at with suspicion because of the simple act of growing a beard.

When we arrived [at the airport], I was separated from my team at immigration. They joined the queue for American citizens; I joined the one for foreigners. The officer who inspected my passport was a solidly built woman with a pistol at her hip and mastery of English inferior to mine; I attempted to disarm her with a smile. "What is the purpose of your trip to the United States?" she asked me. "I live here," I replied. "That is not what I asked you, sir," she said. "What is the purpose of your trip to the United States?" Our exchange continued in much this fashion for several minutes. In the end I was dispatched for a secondary inspection in a room where I sat on a metal bench next a tattooed man in handcuffs.... As a consequence, I rode to Manhattan that evening very much alone.

This is a simple story, even more effective because it doesn't hit us over the head with facts or rhetoric or black and white ultimatums. It simply asks us to be quiet for a minute and look at a familiar event through different eyes.

Other reviews:
Marg

13 comments:

Lezlie said...

This one is sitting in my pile. I'm currently reading "The Sirens of Baghdad" by Yasmina Khadra, which deals with the American invasion of Iraq from a young Iraqi man's point of view. Very thought provoking, as all of Khadra's books have been for me. You might want to check it out!

Lezlie

Eva said...

I'm reading this later in the year for the Orbis Terrarum challenge (I want to stick to my original, geographical order), and I'm so excited about it! Glad that you liked it. :D

Nymeth said...

Sounds like a must read! I like books that offer a different perspective on things.

Emanuel Nordrum said...

Sounds interesting - thanks for the heads up. I'll add it to my list.

Wendy said...

Glad you liked this one - I love your conclusion about seeing a familiar event with a different perspective. That is exactly how I felt about it! And thanks for the link back to my blog :)

Trish said...

Thanks for the review--I read another less than positive review of the book not too long ago, so now I'm really interested in finding out for myself what it is all about. Glad you liked it!

Kim L said...

lezlie-That sounds like a great read, thanks for reccommending it!

eva-I hope you like it too. Worthwhile!!

nymeth-yes, I could go on and on about how much people here in the states need to read this book and look at the events after 9/11 from a different point of view. The nationalism here can be extreme sometimes!

emanuel-you definitely should, it is a great read!

wendy-thanks for recommending this in your blog. It really sparked my interest!

trish-do you remember what the criticism of the book was? I could see this book maybe being controversial because there are some negative things about the US, but I hope that is not why the reader didn't like the book.

Trish said...

Kim, I think it was along those lines...oh well. If I see it, I'll definitely pick it up!

Kim L said...

trish-that is disappointing, because the point of the book is not to bash America, but to point out how the political situation here looks to outsiders. If we never learn about different opinions, we never get to chance to open our minds.

Sorry, I'll get off the soapbox now. At least I know you're interested in the book :-)

Marg said...

I really enjoyed this one when I read it a while ago. I thought the writing was beautiful!

My review is here

Andi said...

OK, I've waffled a lot about whether or not to read this book since I seem to have an aversion to anything even remotely related to 9/11, but your review clinches it. I MUST read it. The college library just happens to have it, so I'm set to go.

Andi said...

OK, I've waffled a lot about whether or not to read this book since I seem to have an aversion to anything even remotely related to 9/11, but your review clinches it. I MUST read it. The college library just happens to have it, so I'm set to go.

Debi said...

I bought this one a couple months ago, but it hadn't made it to the "soon" pile yet. I think your review just changed that! Thanks, Kim...you've really got me excited about picking it up now!