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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007)

by Mohsin Hamid

Series: Blackbirds

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4,1152151,776 (3.68)524
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English (203)  Italian (3)  German (2)  Norwegian (2)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (214)
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Hamid, Mohsin (2007). Il fondamentalista riluttante (trad. Norman Gobetti). Torino: Einaudi. 2008. ISBN 9788858402061. Pagine 134. 1,99 €

Mannaggia alle promozioni quotidiane di Kindle e alla mia dabbenaggine. Un giorno o l’altro finirò sul lastrico per colpa di Amazon e della mia dabbenaggine. Per mia fortuna, spesso le proposte riguardano libri che non leggerei neppure se me li regalassero. Anzi, dovrebbero pagarmi, e bene, per farmeli leggere.

Qui era il titolo a incuriosirmi: un titolo bellissimo. Riluttante è una parola bellissima. Fa venire voglia di riluttare tutta la vita, e non è escluso che prima o poi lo faccia. Anche quando era uscito il film, il titolo attirava la mia attenzione.

Chissà perché poi, quando ho letto il nome dell’autore, ho dato per scontato che scrivesse nella sua lingua, arabo, urdu o punjabi che fosse. Invece l’autore ha vissuto a lungo e studiato negli Stati Uniti prima di tornare a Lahore (sotto questo profilo, il romanzo è in parte autobiografico) e scrive in inglese. E così ho anche violato la regola che mi sono dato di leggere i libri in originale quando sono scritti in una lingua che leggo correntemente (cioè l’inglese).

Il romanzo non è brutto, ma neppure memorabile. È scritto e strutturato in modo molto tradizionale, a meno che non si voglia considerare “sperimentale” il ricorso alla cornice narrativa: il protagonista racconta la sua storia nel corso di una serata a Lahore, un po’ come Marlow racconta Cuore di tenebra su una nave che aspetta la marea favorevole per uscire dal porto di Londra. Ci deve avere pensato anche Hamid, perché cita il romanzo di Conrad nel suo. Potrebbe essere una coincidenza, però, ed è curioso che commetta l’errore (per la verità molto frequente) di confondere il Charlie Marlow conradiano con il Philip Marlowe investigatore privato creato da Raymend Chandler:

Da allora mi sono sentito un po’ come un Kurtz in attesa del suo Marlowe. [pos. Kindle 1767]

Poco altro da dire. Una scrittura piacevole, senza scosse, che scorre come l’acqua. Alla fine non resta quasi niente, se non l’irritazione per l’11 settembre, che è un luogo comune tanto comune da far venir voglia di chiudere subito il libro. Trovo sorprendente che il romanzo sia stato selezionato (short-listed) per il Booker Prize.

Una citazione sola, che però riassume tutto il romanzo:

«Hai mai sentito parlare dei giannizzeri?» «No», dissi io. «Erano ragazzi cristiani, – spiegò, – catturati dagli ottomani e addestrati per essere soldati in un esercito musulmano, a quel tempo il piú potente esercito del mondo. Erano feroci ed estremamente leali: avevano lottato per cancellare dentro di sé la propria cultura, perciò non avevano piú nient’altro a cui rivolgersi».
Fece cadere la cenere della sigaretta in un piattino. «Quanti anni avevi quando sei andato negli Stati Uniti?» mi chiese. «Ci sono andato a fare l’università, – dissi. – A diciotto anni». «Ah, molto piú vecchio, – rifletté lui. – I giannizzeri venivano presi da bambini. Sarebbe stato molto piú difficile farne dei devoti all’impero adottivo se avessero avuto ricordi che non potevano dimenticare». [1463] ( )
  Boris.Limpopo | Apr 29, 2019 |
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a lesson in civility. Its pacing is practiced and hospitable. There is ceremony and sublimation. Such is the story of Changez, a Pakistani Princeton graduate and one-time corporate star in NYC, told on a wonderful day in Lahore. His shadowy interlocutor is an American of unknown intentions. The novel offers a modest immigrant's tale. While it is clear there is extreme emotion just under the surface, the notion of any real threat remains uncertain. It is this menace which propels the narrative, enhances our suspicions, allows to err on the side of a hasty credible threat.

The novel is masterful as an illumination, as an idyll and as a pointing a finger at our own fears.
( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Very well written book, it was gripping. If you're going to read it, do not read any plot summaries, just let yourself get immersed in the relentlessly tense continuous first person narrative. The plot was a little hackneyed and predictable, but the protagonist's attitudes and experiences spoke to me.

Read the book, it's short! ( )
  RekhainBC | Feb 15, 2019 |
Glad it is short - I made it through but I was rather "meh" about the whole thing. Apparantly it is full of symbolism - all of which passed me by.
Sometimes interesting but often boring. ( )
  infjsarah | Jan 13, 2019 |
A brave and empathetic novel that puts a spin on the traditional US-tertiary-educated immigrant experience by examining the effects of 9/11 on what would have otherwise been a successful American-dream story.

Despite some clunky metaphors/symbols and informative expositional mini-lectures, the book offers a compassionate view on how what we call extremism can come about, forcing us to confront some values that we perhaps didn't realise we had instilled subconsciously. ( )
  kitzyl | Dec 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 203 (next | show all)
It seems that Hamid would have us understand the novel's title ironically. We are prodded to question whether every critic of America in a Muslim country should be labeled a fundamentalist, or whether the term more accurately describes the capitalists of the American upper class. Yet these queries seem blunter and less interesting than the novel itself, in which the fundamentalist, and potential assassin, may be sitting on either side of the table.
There's undoubtedly a great novel waiting to be written out of the anguished material of these kinds of east/west encounters. This book may not be it, but its author (who won a Betty Trask award for his first novel, Moth Smoke) certainly has the potential to write it.
added by mikeg2 | editThe Guardian, James Lasdun (Mar 3, 2007)
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"Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard. I am a lover of America."
"For despite my mother's request, and my knowledge of the difficulties it could well present me at immigration, I had not shaved my two-week-old beard. It was, perhaps, a form of protest on my part, a symbol of my identity, or perhaps I sought to remind myself of the reality I had just left behind; I do not know recall my precise motivations. I know only that I did not wish to blend in with the army of clean-shaven youngsters who were my coworkers, and that inside me, for multiple reasons, I was deeply angry." (p.148-9)
"...one of my coworkers asked me a question, and when I turned to answer him, something rather strange took place. I looked at him - at his fair hair and light eyes and, most of all, his oblivious immersion in the minutiae of our work - and thought, you are so foreign. I felt in that moment much closer to the Filipino driver than to him; I felt I was play-acting when in reality I ought to be making my way home, like the people on the street outside."
"Have you heard of the janissaries?" "No," I said. "They were Christian boys, he explained, "captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to... How old were you when you went to America?"
"There really could be no doubt: I was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with kinship to mine and was perhaps colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war. Of course I was struggling! Of course I felt torn!"
"But at that moment, my thoughts were not with the victims of the attack - death on television moves me most when it is fictitious and happens to characters with whom I have built up relationships over multiple episodes - no, I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees." (p.83)
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Book description
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.

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0151013047, Hardcover)

Mohsin Hamid's first novel, Moth Smoke, dealt with the confluence of personal and political themes, and his second, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, revisits that territory in the person of Changez, a young Pakistani. Told in a single monologue, the narrative never flags. Changez is by turns naive, sinister, unctuous, mildly threatening, overbearing, insulting, angry, resentful, and sad. He tells his story to a nameless, mysterious American who sits across from him at a Lahore cafe. Educated at Princeton, employed by a first-rate valuation firm, Changez was living the American dream, earning more money than he thought possible, caught up in the New York social scene and in love with a beautiful, wealthy, damaged girl. The romance is negligible; Erica is emotionally unavailable, endlessly grieving the death of her lifelong friend and boyfriend, Chris.

Changez is in Manila on 9/11 and sees the towers come down on TV. He tells the American, "...I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased... I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees..." When he returns to New York, there is a palpable change in attitudes toward him, starting right at immigration. His name and his face render him suspect.

Ongoing trouble between Pakistan and India urge Changez to return home for a visit, despite his parents' advice to stay where he is. While there, he realizes that he has changed in a way that shames him. "I was struck at first by how shabby our house appeared... I was saddened to find it in such a state... This was where I came from... and it smacked of lowliness." He exorcises that feeling and once again appreciates his home for its "unmistakable personality and idiosyncratic charm." While at home, he lets his beard grow. Advised to shave it, even by his mother, he refuses. It will be his line in the sand, his statement about who he is. His company sends him to Chile for another business valuation; his mind filled with the troubles in Pakistan and the U.S. involvement with India that keeps the pressure on. His work and the money he earns have been overtaken by resentment of the United States and all it stands for.

Hamid's prose is filled with insight, subtly delivered: "I felt my age: an almost childlike twenty-two, rather than that permanent middle-age that attaches itself to the man who lives alone and supports himself by wearing a suit in a city not of his birth." In telling of the janissaries, Christian boys captured by Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in the Muslim Army, his Chilean host tells him: "The janissaries were always taken in childhood. It would have been far more difficult to devote themselves to their adopted empire, you see, if they had memories they could not forget." Changez cannot forget, and Hamid makes the reader understand that--and all that follows. --Valerie Ryan

A Conversation with Mohsin Hamid
Set in modern-day Pakistan, Mohsin Hamid's debut novel, Moth Smoke, went on to win awards and was listed as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His bold new novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is a daring, fast-paced monologue of a young Pakistani man telling his life story to a mysterious American stranger. It's a controversial look at the dark side of the American Dream, exploring the aftermath of 9/11, international unease, and the dangerous pull of nostalgia. Amazon.com senior editor Brad Thomas Parsons shared an e-mail exchange with Mohsin Hamid to talk about his powerful new book

Read the Amazon.com Interview with Mohsin Hamid

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:30 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite valuation firm of Underwood Samson. 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 eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez's own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love"--Jacket.… (more)

» see all 14 descriptions

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