The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Ah, I see I have alarmed you.
Do not be frightened by my beard
I am a lover of America…”
So speaks the mysterious stranger at a Lahore café as dusk settles. Invited to join him for tea, you learn his name and what led this speaker of immaculate English to seek you out. For he is more worldly than you might expect; better travelled and better educated. He knows the West better than you do. And as he tells you his story, of how he embraced the Western dream – and a Western woman – and how both betrayed him, so the night darkens. Then the true reason for your meeting becomes abundantly clear…
The events of this novella take place during a single evening as Changez, the protagonist, starts chatting to a nervous, unnamed, American in a café in a bustling Lahore market. Over the course of the evening, Changez recounts his experiences of America where he studied at an Ivy League university before getting a job with a prestigious business evaluation firm and where he fell in love with Erica.
Life is going very well for Changez until 9/11, where suddenly he’s viewed with suspicion and he, for his part, has a change of heart towards America. He becomes dissatisfied with his life and his thoughts turn to Pakistan, which is affected by the American invasion of Afghanistan and also feelings of unrest in neighbouring India, which are brought to the fore again by what he sees as American interference.
This is a very though-provoking, tense novel which shows stereotypes in all the countries mentioned. The writing style is unusual, it being delivered by monologue. It is a book which divides opinion and leaves some dissatisfied, but I thought it was great and it will stay with me for some time.
If you like your novels to have all the loose ends tied up neatly then this book probably isn’t for you as the ending leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions. It will stay with me for some time.
On a purely aesthetic note, I love the cover, both in look and feel!
Reviewed by Janet