I read this book in a matter of hours. I was utterly absorbed to put it lightly. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in a single sitting and this novel made it impossible to put down. I loved the straight forward point of view and the political undertones – which are especially relevant in this day and age.
There are many books which deal with the complex relationship between the Western world and the Islamic world and I believe that The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a fine example of this. In no way does it attempt to glorify or excuse religious fundamentalism, however it is certainly a thought provoking novel and indicates how such a choice can be made by even the most unlikely of characters.
At a café 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…
Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.
But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.
- I found the narrative style particularly engaging, it makes a reader try and put the pieces together and heightens the sense of drama and urgency. As it shifts between the present day meeting of two men in Pakistan, back to Changez life in the USA pre and post 9/11, as a reader you try and work out how it gets to this point in time.
- I found Changez to be a really interesting character from the get go, and I found I could relate to certain elements of his personality. The anxiety and effort he experiences trying to fit in to his place of work, as the only Pakistani and Muslim and struggling with external perceptions of his culture. I also found the growing disillusionment he experiences both believable and well presented, his growing isolation and the bitter person he becomes, in comparison to his earlier persona is compelling. I believe Hamid really gets into that disturbing mindset of an individual who is at war internally and how this can manifest in a number of ways.
- Allegory – Once you get further into the novel, you eventually come to realise that many of the characters within the novel represent wider ideas in the real world. For instance Erica, who Changez gradually falls in love with and has conflicted feelings about, represents America. As hard as Changez tries he never fully receives her love or acceptance due to their conflicting views on life and Ericas inability to move on from her past. Changez is also seen as an exotic commodity by Erica, at times, it appeared to me as if it was a physical attraction for the other which drew her to him.
- Ending – When I finished the novel, I didn’t know how to feel. It’s not a novel which is always serious or didactic but it had points where I did get quite emotionally attached. Notably when Erica seemingly disappeared, with only her clothes left behind. It was quite chilling and I’ve read more disturbing scenes in fiction but for some reason that image really stuck with me.
- The ending scene with it’s sense of heavy discomfort or tension too will stay with me, do we believe something sinister will follow? or are we to believe the listener will safely continue on his travels? Is the person Changez addressing even real? All of these questions do not necessarily have answers, it’s up to a reader to decide. Some of the best novels, in my experience, end in these ways and leave you thinking about them long after you turn the last page. Hamids novel certainly achieved this for me.
Until next time,