The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

(First published 2007)

A story set in Lahore, beginning with a dialogue between the “reluctant fundamentalist”, Changez, and an American stranger whom he meets in the old part of the city.

Stylistically different, the narrative is almost entirely made up of a monologue; the reader is not allowed to hear the reactions of the American stranger. Changez speaks continuously as he recounts the experiences of his student life in the US.

Flowing, lucid and laced with humour, it is a sensational read. I couldn’t put down the book once I started, and read it in one sitting, in 7 hours.

The protagonist is a Pakistani who goes to study at Princeton and then lands in a lucrative job in finance. He is doing very well when the 9/11 takes place. The wars that follow have a profound effect on him. He begins to doubt himself, his loyalties and philosophy of life. It is a story that deals with the civilisational clash that was effected in the aftermath of 9/11.

Not so much as a tale of a truly reluctant fundamentalist than of a person torn between two mutually exclusive sets of loyalties. Changez suffers from an identity crisis and religious fundamentalism only makes up a facade of his crisis. He doesn’t emphasise the need to ‘revert’ to the ‘pure’ Islam, as one might expect from a budding fundamentalist; his opposition to American policy of wars is political not religious. He talks of “our Asia” instead of “our Islamic World”. Not to mention that Changez drinks, gambles, fornicates with his girlfriend, and doesn’t seem to have a moral problem with his lifestyle as a supposedly practicing Muslim.

The novel, however, lacks a coherent structure and suffers from weakness of plot. His love affair with the American girl Erica is static and doesn’t develop into anything. In a way ‘Erica’ is symbolic of ‘Am-erica’ – once beloved of Changez, now an insane castaway.

My rating: 4/5. Find it on AMAZON

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