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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, 191 pages
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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (2007)

1001 (40) 1001 books (19) 2007 (23) 2008 (18) 21st century (30) 9/11 (116) America (30) booker prize shortlist (45) contemporary fiction (32) fiction (484) fundamentalism (45) immigrants (25) Islam (102) Lahore (22) literary fiction (23) literature (27) Middle East (34) New York (58) novel (81) own (18) Pakistan (278) Pakistani (32) politics (24) read (50) read in 2008 (32) religion (25) terrorism (100) to-read (48) unread (22) USA (43)
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English (156)  Norwegian (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (162)
Showing 1-5 of 156 (next | show all)
Interesting, quick read. Not in-depth enough for my taste. Needed dialog rather than monolog IMO. ( )
  m2snick | Feb 19, 2014 |
Ohhh , I read this as a book reveiwer, I almost quite ,,,,, UNTIL the end Great book
  Papillon_Books | Dec 29, 2013 |
Ohhh , I read this as a book reveiwer, I almost quite ,,,,, UNTIL the end Great book
  Papillon_Books | Dec 29, 2013 |
This novel, written by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, is the story that takes place in a single evening in an outdoor Lahore cafe, where Changez (Urdu for Genghis) tells an American stranger about his love affair with an American woman called ‘Erica’ and of his eventual abandonment of America. Changez is a brilliant young student who obtains his education in finance at Princeton and is hired by a prestigious company as an analyst. He meets Erica while on vacation in Greece. Their relationship starts out bright and but deteriorates as does Changez’s relationship with America until we are back with him in the outdoor cafe in Lahore talking to the nervous American who we never hear other than through Changez during the entire book.

The novel was engaging in that there was a building tension but I found the monologue a bit tedious and it left me feeling disturbed. Changez seemed like a nice enough guy but he grew more and more distant and angry. He had good manners but the hostility was just there under all the nice and polite manners. Erica was mentally ill and fragile. She became more and more withdrawn, representing Changez’s relationship with America. The American was depicted as ‘nervous and distrustful’. Jim was Changez’s boss at the company and he was depicted as a man who was an outsider but successful, unmarried and possibly gay. Changez and Erica change over the course of the story from a couple who looked like love and a future together might exist to estranged isolation from each other. This is a psychological fiction with emphasis on what is going on internally with Erica, Changez and the nervous American. There was mounting tension as the story progresses. This quote pretty much describes the ambiguity of the story; “....the prospect of sugaring your tongue before undertaking even the bloodiest of tasks cannot be entirely alien to you.” The structure is a frame story; we have the story of Changez talking to the nervous American and then we have the story of Changez’s immigration to America, his success at school, first job and love affair with Erica.

I felt that this novel which looked at the racism that Arabs, Pakistani and Islamic people experience in the United States, stereotyped and was racist in reverse.

“Why do you recoil? Ah yes, this beggar is a particularly unfortunate fellow. One can only wonder what series of accidents could have left him so thoroughly disfigured. He draws close to you because you are a foreigner. Will you give him something? No? Very wise; one ought not to encourage beggars, and yes, you are right, it is far better to donate to charities that address the causes of poverty rather than to him, a creature who is merely its symptoms. What am I doing? I am handing him a few rupees--misguidedly, of course, and out of habit. There, he offers us his prayers for our well-being; now he is on his way.”

“I turned on the television and saw what at first I took to be a film. But as I continued to watch, I realized that it was not fiction but news. I stared as one--and then the other--of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.”

“...in history, as I suspect you--an American--will agree, it is the thrust of one’s narrative that counts, not the accuracy of one’s details.”

“...entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him in the classrooms and workplaces of your country’s elite.”

“....the prospect of sugaring your tongue before undertaking even the bloodiest of tasks cannot be entirely alien to you.”

This attitude wasn’t new and the prejudice and hatred toward America is not new but it’s a hard thing to see how others see you. The author did a great job of depicting why hating Americans is justifiable while wanting to get a Princeton education and the “entitlement” of foreign students to be admitted to colleges like Princeton and Harvard while despising the land where these colleges exist. I think the author’s goal was probably to make Americans aware of our own anger, prejudices and hostilities but he also failed to understand his own prejudices and stereotyping. ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
This book reads like the story of an alcoholic who maliciously points out the faults of others in order to convince himself that his aren't so bad. Very well written if that was Hamid's intention, a real failure if he was trying to make the reader sympathize with the character. I'm going to say he was going for the alcoholic version. ( )
  Citizenjoyce | Sep 13, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 156 (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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:13 -0400)

(see all 4 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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