Customer Review

69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully balanced portrayal of the subtleties of East Vs West, 27 Feb 2008
This review is from: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Hardcover)
WARNING: SPOILERS

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.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Oct 2008 22:39:10 BDT
J.K says:
This is such a helpful review. As a westerner, I found this a confronting and thought provoking novel. It is easy to believe you are in the right when constantly seeing only your side of the coin. This is the flip side.. It's beautifully written and the ambiguity of the ending is a neat trick: I think what you believe has happened in the final pages shows the spirit in which you have read the book. I am recommending this book left, right and centre.
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