Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Holds back, 27 April 2009
This review is from: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Paperback)
The Reluctant Terrorist is a quick read. Most of it is set in a cafe in Pakistan with the main character Jangez, recounting to an American what he had experienced before and after 9/11 in New York while employed in a high-flying job (an experience which overlaps with those dastardly city stock brokers who created the financial crisis!). His former colonial grammar school education combined with his outsider's fascination with the American Dream, attracts Jangez to an all-American girl who isn't interested in him beyond a sycophantic friend or a substitute for an ex-boyfriend. The first-person narration works for me, although there are moments like 'I see you are thirsty enough to accept another wonderful cup of tea. Yes? I thought so, one moment' etc... which takes a bit of getting used to.

However, this book is ground-breaking: Apart from the horror and revulsion felt, which was understandable after 9/11, there was also a widespread but unexpressed feeling that was neither extremist nor hugely patriotic or sympathetic to what had happened.

I had been waiting to find an apt expression of this 'feeling', I can't think of a better word at the moment, because it became clear that there must be other viewpoints on issues like the war on terror than those found on most of the western media outlets.

Reluctant Terrorist is not an anti-American piece of literature, it is far too intelligent to be summed up in such a way. Instead it shows how the American Dream, from an immigrant's point of view, rather than being fully seized upon, is sort of interrupted and inverted. The manner of the first person narrative style always holds back from putting the boot in, as it were. For me, the true purpose and conclusion of the protagonist's experience is clear - so I didn't find it as suspenseful as other reviewers.

I think there are two ways of seeing 9/11 - the first which has been predominant until now - that it was an affront to what it was/is to be an American - hugely symbolic with the towers, and the second that it is another human tragedy among many - many of which have seen the US as perpertraitor against other peoples. (A third view is that of a terrorist which is by definition insane. Interestingly I wouldn't say Hamid indulges his main character in this view for a moment.) This book is in the second camp and the overly polite manner or, as one might interpret it, veneer, distances the reader from the themes and the horrific truth of the terrorist attacks. This is what makes us think beyond media coverage of purely brutal images and provides a fascinating insight of a fictional Pakistani who goes through a sort Dickensian class and culture shock - ending up doubly traumatized by a personal tragedy and a moral collapse of previously highly regarded values and truths. There is a great description in which the flags and atmosphere in New York is described as belonging to old black and film conveying an ancient almost primitive blind patriotism.

Moving the reader away from the trauma of 9/11 is a very bold move by the author, but even so, I think he deliberately used this subtle style to soften the presence of an alternative view beyond the, as I say, 'terrorism is despicable in any shape or form' denouncement which, although true, prevents us from understanding the whole picture.

What happens at the end of the novel tests you. I think it is by far more one thing than the other - pretty clear. Interestingly, if you have read the Catcher in the Rye, the style won't come as a huge revelation to you I think. I like this novel, but it has just occured to me that the Erica character could have just as easily been IN the Catcher in the Rye - it has a very similar feel.

Anyway - read it - it doesn't take long and you get a lot from it!
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