The Reluctant Fundamentalist - a Book Review

Changez's life changes drastically, from pursuing efficiency and fundamentals in appraising businesses to questioning the fallacies embedded in hard core capitalistic haunting bonanza. Freshly graduated from Princeton, highly motivated pursuing career to coveted aristocracy, Changez moves past his classmates and colleagues at Underwood Samson in rapid pace, beaming with unmistakable confidence in his every strides, demeanor and winning smiles. September 11 changes everything as he reflects on his plight: "the door to the elevator was shut upon me and I began to travel down the shaft, alone."

Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a slender novel, but with substantial pathos imbued in sharp observations, without relinquishing a good story's structured rhythm into cliched slogans against power and superpower. The effective monologue that the writer used where an unnamed American was entertained over a cup of tea and later the mouth watering dinner of Lahore, the twist and turn and underlying tension as the story unfolds revealing life of Changez in his abandoned beloved Princeton and New York, made this a novel unputdownable, so readers should be forewarned: you will be tightly embraced by its fast moving plot.

Like the Guardian's reviewers (Link) I also found the writer used allegories, depicting plots and subplots with the reality of our world, like Changez's romantic relationship with Erica (Am-Erica), Erica's subsequent breakdown from tragic loss of her dead boyfriend Chris, and comparing Erica's grief with American grief after September 11: ""it seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia".

As the war in Afghanistan started, Changez's outlook had already begun to change, "preferring not to watch the partisan and sports-event-like coverage given to the mismatch between the American bombers with their twenty-first-century weaponry and the ill-equipped and ill-fed Afghan tribesmen below................I was reminded of the film Terminator, but with the roles reversed so that the machines were cast as heroes."

It's not only war and aftermath that this novel is about. There are fine sporadic descriptions of Lahore's cuisine delicacy like the following fragment: "such an authentic introduction to Lahori cuisine; it will, given the dishes for which this market is justifiably renowned, be a purely carnivorous feast -- one that harks back to an era before man's knowledge of cholesterol made him fearful of his prey -- and all the more delectable for it......No, we are surrounded by instead by the kebab of mutton, the tikka of chicken, the stewed foot of goat, the spiced brain of sheep! These, sir, are predatory delicacies, delicacies imbued with a hint of luxury, of wanton abandon....Here we are not squeamish when it comes to facing the consequences of our desire."

Changez's "not squemished" desire to be part of an exclusive elite society in America shuddered to halt during his work trip to Valparaiso in Chile, the home of legendary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, where the publisher of the company he was appraising, Juan-Bautista "added considerable momentum to my inflective journey, a journey that continues to this day...."

Juan-Bautista was direct in his characterization of Changez, asking:

"Does it trouble you," he inquired, "to make your living by disrupting the lives of others?" "We just value," I replied. "We do not decide whether to buy or to sell, or indeed what happens to a company after we have valued it." He nodded; he lit a cigarette and took a sip from his glass of wine. Then he asked, " have you heard of 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."

That was the final blow on Changez's deluded world. "Juan-Bautista's words plunged me into a deep bout of introspection. I spent that night considering what I had become. 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 a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war. of course I was struggling! Of course I felt torn! I had thrown in my lot with the men of Underwood Samson, with the officers of the empire, when all along I was pre-disposed to feel compassion for those, like Juan-Bautista, whose lives the empire thought nothing of overturning for its own gain."

Changez left his job in his beloved New York to return to his homeland to be with his family, away from humiliating strip search at airport, the looks of suspicions, and war frenzied flag waving to his native land where the similar drum rolls of war were raising louder into higher pitch in every passing days from tension between India and Pakistan.

Perhaps, Mohsin Hamid could make this novel a bit longer. Perhaps, more dialogues and extensions of plots like the sudden disappearance of Erica (Am-Erica), incidents in Chile, aftermath of September 11 both in U.S. and inPakistan in more vivid detail could have raised this novel to a level similar to ones reached by Jeffrey Eugenides' splendid Middlesex or Ian Mcewan's Atonement. On the hindsight though, the slenderness of this little novel preserved its charm and iressistibility due to its same minuteness in words but with razor sharp tensed storyline.