Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Changez is a brilliant young Pakistani in America who graduates from Princeton, begins a love affair with an American woman, and finds a well-paying job in the world of finance. But he is already becoming dissatisfied with his work, feeling he is aiding and abetting an American domination of the world that he feels very uneasy about.

Then September 11, 2001 comes. Then relations between Pakistan and India deteriorate and nuclear war on the subcontinent appears likely. Changez grows to hate what he sees as U.S. interference in South Asia (and everywhere else). Meanwhile his girlfriend vanishes into her own difficulties and suicidal thoughts.

Less is more. Mohsin Hamid leaves a lot unsaid.The Reluctant Fundamentalist uses a frame story, in which Changez is relating his story to an American businessman (government agent?) he meets at a Lahore market. The exact nature of the American acquaintance is left up to the reader to decide, as well as whether Changez is an completely reliable narrator, particularly as he tells the latter part of his story, after he has entirely renounced his adoptive country.

I write this blog post having deliberately avoided reading any online reviews or reactions to Hamid's novel. So much is left unsaid, and there is so much room for the individual reader's interpretation, that I feel as if once I read what others had to say my mind will be no longer pristine. (I'll almost certainly succumb to temptation once I finish writing this.)

If I make this novel sound impossibly vague, I don't mean to. It's good exposure for Westerners to the non-Western, perhaps even anti-Western point of view. Just because you try to understand a particular viewpoint doesn't mean you have to agree with it. (And of course, anyone who automatically assumes Changez = Mohsin Hamid is making a grave mistake and needs to go back to Reading Fiction 101.)

No comments: