Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mohsin Hamid/THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST

One afternoon in 2007, a young Pakistani man encounters an American in his native city of Lehore, takes him to tea, and tells him the story of his life--his scholarship to Princeton, his first love, his top-tier job at a New York consulting firm, his response to living in America during the 9/11 attacks, and his eventual decision to return to Lehore.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a monologue, one man talking to (or at) another from tea through dinner, dessert, and another cup of tea. Changez narrates his story with almost offputting candor to his nameless, faceless, utterly anonymous American guest. It is brief (perhaps 50,000 words, tops, as a rough guess) and affecting, with interesting ideas about human emotions, our ways of interacting with one another. Certainly worth the afternoon it takes to read.

The narrative is deeply psychological, told to us without interruption by a first person narrator too affable not to trust blindly, whose observations are sharp and thoughtful. Perhaps particularly surprising is his take-home summary of American culture--a culture of fundamentals, or putting aside the larger picture in order to only approach a small and specific task at hand. At his consulting job, Changez (the narrator) was to value a company on their potential worth, just crunching numbers and delivering the result to the client, without concern about who would lose their jobs or what lives would be effected by the result he returned. Ultimately, he could not be this kind of American "fundamentalist"--the surprising origin of the title (or one of them). Hamid's writing is not as subtle as, say, Ishiguro, but is that much more accessible.

There is much to be said further about the book, but it is difficult to do so without revealing plot elements, so I'll stop here and say I highly recommend this book. As for its time-investment-to-brain-value ratio, you simply can't do better.

Anyone who has read and would like to discuss further, please do so in the comments! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

11 comments:

Diane said...

Excellent, thought provoking review. I need to add this to my wish list. Thanks

moonrat said...

Diane--when you read, come back and let me know what you think (I read review comments forever!). I'm kinda dying to talk about this with someone!

Lisa said...

I read this a couple of years ago and yes, it left me thinking about a lot. The reason I read the book in the first place was because a blogging friend of mine, who is Pakistani and lives near Lahore read it and recommended it as a book that represented quite well what it's like to be a Pakistani here. If that wasn't motivation to read a book in this day and age, I don't know what is. He also recommends Three Cups of Tea, which I haven't read yet.

Anonymous said...

I find it v. interesting that you said 'a first person narrator too affable not to trust blindly.'

I only read the first half because I found the narrator so untrustworthy that I couldn't' bear the suspense!

moonrat said...

Lisa--interesting, and good to hear.

Anon--ha! yes. I know what you mean. But the American seems to (mostly) trust him, right?

And down to the very end, literally down to the last line, I still don't know whether or not I do.

Lisa, did you?

Jake said...

Have this on my reading list and after your review I must get to this book ASAP! Thanks for the review and don't stop reviewing books in your blog.

sylvia said...

I enjoyed this book although I'm with Anon - I wasn't sure that the narrator was trustworthy and I was worried for the American tourist.

I will make a point of getting Three Cups of Tea now!

moonrat said...

Jake--haha ok. Come back here and let us know what you think! The conversation's always live.

Sasha said...

I just read this because of your review and now I'm dying to talk about it, too. I assume it's okay to put spoilers in the comments?

moonrat said...

Go for it, Sasha. People have been duly warned!

sylvia said...

To be honest, I sort of assume that the comments will include spoilers. You can't sensibly discuss a book without talking about the details, not really.