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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Mohsin Hamid

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Title:The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Authors:Mohsin Hamid
Info:Harvest Books (2008), Edition: 1, Paperback, 208 pages
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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (2007)

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English (170)  German (2)  Norwegian (2)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (178)
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In short, I loved this book and I would recommend it to everyone. It's full of dark humour and suspense, and is easily read in a day. I would compare it favourably with 'As Far As You Can Go' by Lesley Glaister - another thoroughly creepy, though longer, book that I enjoyed.
I think what makes 'The Relucant Fundamentalist' a great read is that:
1) It's well paced. The frame story only takes place over one evening, and the book's pace respects this.
2) It lets the reader jump to all the conclusions. The narrator purely gives an account of his time in America and remarks on the reaction of his listener. It's a bit like in a horror movie when you hear faint strains of suspense music - you know something's going to happen. The narrator seems to delight in giving his listener verbal 'suspense music' which may or may not come to anything.
3) It's an unusual style of writing which is extremely tough to do well. 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is written by a master and I can't believe it's only his second novel.
Personally I would make it compulsory reading in Literature classes at school.
( )
  bethany89 | Nov 26, 2015 |
I seem to be reading lots of books about immigrants lately. I've had this audiobook in my shelf to read for a while now. For some reason I decided to download it this weekend and couldn't stop listening until the end.
I also think that writing a good review about The Reluctant Fundamentalist is way above my pay-grade, so I am going to use a few adjectives to describe the book and my reaction to it as best I can:

About the book: Enigmatic,Candid, elegant, nuanced, relevant, thoughtful, bitter, powerful...

About my reaction to it: Ambivalent, enchanted, spooked, surprised, cautious,mesmerized...

I might come back later and add some other thoughts but for now I think that the best I can do.
This was a powerful book to read and listen to.

Satya Bhabha the narrator of the audiobook, was superb. ( )
  irisper012106 | Nov 1, 2015 |
What an amazing, short story this was. First, let me comment on the way of writing: the perspective of a 200-page monologue, or rather one-sided dialogue was entirely new to me. It worked, however. It really did, and is perhaps the best suited way to narrate this story about love, confusion and beliefs.

Second, as a European doing business in Pakistan for more than six years, I feel I can kind of relate to the main character's motivations and actions. What I love about this tale is that rather early on you know exactly what is going to happen, yet you get lulled by the narrator all the time into believing that it might turn out differently after all. Just like I know a Pakistani would! :-)

I would have given it four stars only, but for the fact that I very much like the Pakistani nation and supposedly could relate to the story in a far greater extent than most of its Western readers.

Brilliant piece of work. ( )
  bbbart | May 30, 2015 |
Well from the size of the type I would say that the publishers have stretched out a neat little novella so they can charge the same as a full length novel. This may have annoyed the purchasers but as they are now giving it away for free (World Book Night) perhaps we can excuse them.

It's highly readable, consistently interesting and the monologue format is great fun but I fail to see what all the fuss is about. It's a bit of a fingernail paring. I would recommend it on the basis that it will keep you entertained on a quiet afternoon. ( )
  Lukerik | May 20, 2015 |
Narrated as a Pakistani man at a market in Lahore telling his story to a visiting American, this is the tale of Changez, who wins a scholarship to Princeton and then gets a job in New York for a very prestigious firm which values companies. Everything changes for him after the September 11 attacks and by the end of the story he has returned to Lahore and is working as a lecturer and inciting his students against American involvement in Pakistan and its neighbours.

I liked many things about this story, including the gentle dry humour and the way we grow increasingly suspicious of the reliability of the narrator. The suspicion Changez experiences after he grows a beard and his treatment by immigration when he returns to the US from a business trip are also well done. However, I found the sub-plot with Erica perhaps too large a part of the story. It was tragic, but seemed to me irrelevant to the larger picture. [I have since read other reviews where it is pointed out that this is an allegory about how Changez must "become Chris" if he is truly to be able to pursue a relationship with Erica - I see what they mean, but it passed me by.] I was also taken aback by Changez' pleasure at the destruction of the twin towers. At that point in the story there had been nothing to suggest that he felt any resentment towards the US. I had expected a slow disillusionment, but it was more like a switch flipping. (There was the scene where he feels that the local man in Manila dislikes him and feels more Pakistani than American, but still...)

I found the ending a bit rushed overall. It does not seem to me that there is such a direct parallel between, on the one hand, working for an American firm, doing a job you are good at and enjoy for a boss to whom you owe great loyalty and, on the other, thereby feeling you are signed up to endorse that country's foreign policies. I think I was more interested in Changez when he was identifying with both his own and his adopted countries than when he felt so dramatically forced to choose between them. ( )
  pgchuis | Apr 23, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 170 (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"--Book jacket.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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