31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Slight Novel, Superbly Realised
As an outsider's view on the War on Terror and the 9/11 attacks, the Reluctant Fundamentalist offers a revelatory take on a series of events the west is only starting to question. It follows the story of Pakistani immigrant - Changez - working in a high powered corporate job in New York, after graduating from Princeton. At first, with his $80,000 salary, expense account...
Published on 23 Jan 2008 by J A C Corbett
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been so much more
Given the fertile topic, the author could have made a much more convincing plot. One can easily understand how persons at the sharp end of US foreign policy could come to hate the USA. However, the narrator in this book, living out the 'American Dream' in New York, begins to resent the USA AFTER 9/11, based largely on the resultant US response to that attack, rather...
Published on 18 Aug 2009 by John Hope
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Slight Novel, Superbly Realised,
As with On Chesil Beach, another of the 2007 Mann Booker Prize nominees, at less than 200 pages this is less a novel than a novella. But don't let you think this is a book you can race through. Moshin Hamid's prose is restrained and thoughtful; intricately layered and insightful - in short, to be savoured.
Some things didn't work for me: the form of narration - Changez telling his story to a western stranger outside a Lahore restaurant was somewhat clumsy. Each chapter is prefaced with a slightly camp `Oh, but sir, our tea is about to arrive' etc. A straightforward memoir would have worked better and would have avoided the messy ending. Also the title of the book suggests that this is in some way about hard core Islamism or terrorism: it's not, but I feel that it will invariably discourage some readers.
Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles and the Reluctant Fundamentalist is a triumph, a wonderful exposition of a man forced to question his personal, national and religious identity in troubled times.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling - in a good way,
This review is from: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Paperback)What I liked about this book is that we only get one viewpoint, that of the narrator who briefly recounts his recent history to an anonymous American in the form of a monologue. We never hear the American's dialogue directly - just our narrator's response to him (and these were a very telling and useful plot device).
It's what we're not told that I really like about this book: it's ambiguous, intriguing and full of suspense. There is a clear tension in the conversation, but the source of the tension is left to the reader to decide. Is the American under threat, or is he the one posing the threat? Is there even a threat at all or were both reacting in a way that demonstrates their own prejudices (with wariness and suspicion)? I especially like how the ambiguity remains long after the last page, a clear illustration of the current state of the world and the lack of understanding between the east and west.
One criticism is that the narrator doesn't speak like a Princeton graduate who has spent many years in America. I found that a little patronising, but perhaps the author thought it would lend an authenticity. The language was easy to follow and flowed very well though.
I have given this book 4 stars because I found it challenged me and my preconceptions. The open ending left me with lots to think about, and I thought about the issues it raised long after I finished the book.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Perspective on Fundamentalism,
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This review is from: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Paperback)I had planned to read The Reluctant Fundamentalist out of sheer curiosity as to what made the character a reluctant fundamentalist and how that would manifest itself. On reading the book, I was delighted by the nuance and subtlety underlying the title of the book.
Mohsin Hamid's story is beautifully written and told by Changez, the main character and first person narrator whom some might consider unreliable, given the technique adopted by Hamid. The setting is Anarkali a district in Lahore, Pakistan. Changez, who has had the benefit of an Ivy League College education and subsequently employment with a trouble shooting company, meets an American, befriends him and over dinner Changez tells the story of his experience in America. Everything is seen through the eyes of Changez, even the tone and atmosphere of the story is created by him.
Superfically, it could be argued that the premise on which the novel is based is implausible. Two strangers meet for the first time and one allows the other to pour out his soul. Yet one of the great achievements of Hamid is that he was able to draw me into Changez's musings. The reader easily becomes a substitute for the American and is keen to listen to Changez. For me it was this that made the primise of the novel plausible. I don't know how Hamid did it but it is a great artistic achievement.
Hamid's technique is not new but it was certainly daring and risky to narrate the story in this manner, solely through the eyes of Changez. The techinque is reminiscence of that found in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness where Chalie Marlow, a first person narrator, spins a yarn to companions about his seafaring days. Like Marlow's story, I found Changez's story deeply touching.
The narrator's voice is calm, subtle, and nuanced - notice that the text is littered with parenthesis. Through this style Hamid allows Changez to reveal more about himself and tease out more information from the American than the bear bones of the text at first suggest. This was a clever use of tone and style.
The book is partly about the journeys people take, meet and form relationships with other people from different cultures, attempt to integrate and then become something new. This theme is summed up in a brief Proustian like passage thus: "Such journeys have convinced me that it is not always possible to restore one's boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitue ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us."
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is also a mature and sober exploration of the impact of 9/11 on a Muslim 'outsider' desperately trying to find a place in American life. Through Changez's character, and his response to 9/11, Hamid shows that, as an outsider, despite efforts to integrate into another culture there might just be something deep within our psyche that, if only on a symbolic level, makes us hanker towards nationalism and narrow minded culture.
This is also a heart rending story. Changez is so desperate to fit into American life that he was prepared to suffer the foibles of unrequited love. However, of more interest to me is the story behind the person that Changez dotes upon. Erica's story serves as an acute counterpoint to Changez's. Like Changez, Erica is trying to redefine herself. For Erica the need to redefine herself is triggered by the loss of her childhood love, Chris, and a longing for things to be as they were. It stikes me that what Hamid has done with these two characters is, in different ways, highlight the human need for love and belonging. Given that this is a very short novel, the way Hamid goes about showing this human need and the fact that he pulls it off is a remarkable achievement.
Another dominant theme of the book is the notion of change and renewal - note the symbolism of the narrator's name, Changez and his professional role as an analyst and company trouble shooter. It asks how do we cope with and manage one of the inevitable features of life? Hamid cleverly explores change against the backdrop of micro events, eg, the personal life changing journeys undertaken by Changez and Erica, and also Macro events eg, the development of a post 9/11 world, the conflict between Pakistan and India and America's geo-political world dominance.
Incidentally, for those who might think that the title of novel refers simply to Muslim Fundamentalism you would be wrong. Hamid subtly explores the word fundamentalist in order to deconstruct it and remind us of its broader meaning and applicaion. One thing that emerges is that Changez is no reluctant Muslim fundamentalist rather it is in his chosen career that he behaves as a fundamentalist. The change he imposes upon organizations ultimately damages lives. Changez has his epiphany on an assignment in Chile when he meets the chief of a publishing company, Juan-Bautista. For a number of reasons Changez becomes disillusioned with his role and he realises that he is a reluctant fundamentalist. He tells us: "All I knew was that my days of focusing on fundamentals were done".
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a book that explores what we have in common as human beings and seeks to celebrate it. For such a short book Mohsin Hamid has pulled off a towering achievement. It deserved to be shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker prize and perhaps it should have won it. Please read the novel and be amazed by Hamid's achievement.
PS: For all of us expatriate British citizens let Changez's story be a reminder of our precarious status.
92 of 101 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finely worked prose covering deeply felt issues but too unresolved to reach the highest marks,
Yet at times the very sparsity which makes the novel so compelling leaves the reader in a void of ignorance. One is, for instance, driven to seek to understand Changez's conversion but the text provides so little challenge to Changez's narrative that it is left flimsy, incomplete and thus unresolved. This is perhaps Hamid's intention - to set out clearly that there are no easy answers; that Westerners will always fail to understand the East. In that sense this is a deeply unsettling novel and leaves one wishing for just a little more, a little more insight, a little more depth. The sense of `unfinishnessed' is only heightened by the ambiguous, unresolved but perfectly composed ending. Its short listing for the Booker Prize can be justified on the grounds of its fine prose, well-worked form and challenging topics alone but one can equally understand why it didn't win. It is perhaps in the end just a tad too ambiguous, too ethereal, to deliver the sort of challenge which would make it stand head and shoulders above the rest. All round an excellent read which will linger.
65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully balanced portrayal of the subtleties of East Vs West,
I am responding to some of the criticisms of the book in other reviews(that it is simply anti-American), which I feel have completely misunderstood it. The premise of the book is a conversation between Changez (a Pakistani who used to live in New York) and an American. The conversation occurs in Changez's home town, Lahore and the narrative reports Changez's side of the conversation, so it reads like a monologue. As they talk throughout the day, Changez reports his time in America and the reason he is now living in Pakistan. In so doing, he highlights the post 9/11 tensions between America and Muslim countries.
One criticism below is that the book is simply anti-American and distastefully so. I would strongly disagree. The narrative seemed to me to be a love story between the Pakistani narrator, Changez, and the nation of America. The character's gradual disillusionment with America is counterbalanced by his love for it and longing to be part of it, and there is a hint at some disgust at himself for still having such a connection with it, through Erica, an American girl he fell in love with.
Another criticism made in these reviews is that his change of heart towards America is not adequately explained. I think in this case, 'less is more'. The fact that his 'falling out of love' with America is not fully explained seems perfectly natural: many divorcees find it difficult to explain their breakdown of relationship. The gradual distancing of himself from American culture is as much about a psychological struggle to reconcile his true identity as it is a critique on the country's politics.
Hamid seems to hold in tension throughout the narrative this 'love-hate' relationship between East and West and does it with great subtlety and art. As a Westerner, I think it brings the complex issues of Islamic fundamentalism and America's 'war on terror' to the fore with great sympathy and balance. So much so, that the ending, being ambiguous, leaves you facing your own prejudices. Who is in danger at the end, Changez or the American? Has Changez lured the American into a trap, as part of his new strategy to stop America, or is he entirely innocent? Is Changez under threat from the American or not? I don't believe that the ending is a weakness of the book. Rather, it is purposefully, wonderfully ambiguous, leaving the reader to challenge your own preconceptions and sterotypes - who do we see as the real enemy?
In conclusion, I think this book is excellently, sensitively written, delicately handling complex issues. It is not perfect, and at times the monologue style of the narrative can seem a little limiting or clumsy. But it is a very well-written, thoughtful book, that deserves a thoughtful, considered response.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and thoughtful,
This outwardly simple book is packed full of ideas. There are themes of loss and grief, but also of nostalgia, of the dangerous slide of both countries and individuals who lose wealth and influence but retain the pride of earlier days, best illustrated in the lines "As I have already told you I did not grow up in poverty. But I did grow up with a poor boys sense of longing, in my case not for what my family had never had, but for hat we had had and lost. Some of my relatives held onto imagined memories the way homeless people hold onto lottery tickets. Nostalgia was their crack cocaine, if you will, and my childhood was littered with the consequences of their addiction: unserviceable debts, squabbles over inheritances, the odd alcoholic or suicide."
There is a sophisticated analysis of the imperial nature of America, with discussion of how the brightest and best of the developing world are trained as "janissaries", isolated from their cultural roots without fully being assimilated into their masters these child soldiers have nothing to do but work or fight for their adopted nation.
This novel is not political dialectic, it is intensely personal, and that is why it works so well. It encompasses a repeatedly thwarted love affair, which is drawn wonderfully well and a brilliant sense of place.
The reader knows, throughout the book that they are not getting everything from the aptly named Changez; he is an unreliable narrator because of what is omitted, but what he tells you feels true, intense and is not the usual, superficial analyses.
A book with real depth.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The last person to appreciate this book!,
This review is from: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Paperback)I found this an extremely original, thoughtful and wonderfully-written story.
I never thought the subject matter, of a Pakistani's mixed feelings, while living in New York, on the September 11th terrorist attack, would interest me....no, more than interest me; hypnotise me. I can only put this down to the extraordinary way in which it is written. I found it compelling and unputdownable, and it is open enough at the end for the reader to make his own decision about what really happened. It lingers in the mind for many weeks after, and provides interesting discussion material to exchange with a fellow-reader.
I do not think you will regret reading this book. It is spellbinding.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been so much more,
This review is from: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Paperback)Given the fertile topic, the author could have made a much more convincing plot. One can easily understand how persons at the sharp end of US foreign policy could come to hate the USA. However, the narrator in this book, living out the 'American Dream' in New York, begins to resent the USA AFTER 9/11, based largely on the resultant US response to that attack, rather than the ostensible provocation that led to it. To what extent the narrators's emotional immaturity - after all he is only 22 - and consequent inability to deal with an unhappy infatuation with a somewhat mentally disturbed American woman, contributes towards his anti-American sentiments, is not obvious. And finally, the provocation to the US of the narrators's eventual role as a university lecturer in Lahore, inciting anti-American demonstrations, is disproportionate to the hint that an assassin has been sent to take him out. Assassins cost money to train and operate and the US is unlikely to use them to whack out a somewhat strategically insignificant academic in Pakistan. This book could really have been an excellent read, but I found it disappointing.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb book on 'loss',
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taut, sensitive and original,
A successful Pakistani living happily in the US finds himself questioning his values in the wake of 9/11, as he rather reluctantly acknowledges that he does not share the depth of his hosts' grief. As an atmosphere of mutual suspicion leads him to question his values and to work out whether to follow his heart or his head, this book offers the sensitive approach to 9/11 which literature has been crying out for.
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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Paperback - 24 April 2008)