Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Reluctant Fundamentalist or
click here to read Br. Benet Exton's review.
Over the course of a pleasant summer day and evening spent in an outdoor cafť in Lahore, a Pakistani gentleman describes to an American his history and changing relationship with the United States.
The main character, the Pakistani gentleman Changez, was the best in his class and gained the opportunity to attend the University of Princeton in America. He slowly builds his life there, becoming immersed in the American culture, especially the fundamentalism which he sees as such a strong part of the nation. This is in comparison to Pakistanís more laid-back atmosphere, something that is also apparent in the contrast between those sections of the story which take place in Lahore and those in the U.S.
Changez becomes as American as many of his classmates, more so in some cases - until September 11th 2001, when his race and religion, things which have not mattered before, are suddenly very important.
On one level, the novel is symbolic; Changezís changing relationship with America reflects that of many Muslims or other Asian people who suddenly found themselves and their cultures viewed differently after the events of September 11th. Unusually, Mohsin also discusses the effect of this on the relationship between India and Pakistan, something mostly ignored in popular media. The choices Changez must make in the wake of these events, mostly between the American fundamentalist success he has inadvertently attracted and his original Pakistani heritage, echo those choices made by many Asian people. The imagery of the beard he wears, which causes others to view him with suspicion, is a nice touch; the way that a simple fashion choice can also indicate religious and political beliefs and the reactions of those around him make a fascinating allegory.
Mohsin also touches on the relationship between Changez and Erika, a girl who has trouble adjusting to the world as it is, especially with the losses sheís suffered earlier in her life.
Sometimes the book seems to be more about feelings than about people or events, and itís possible, indeed, easy to believe that The Reluctant Fundamentalist is somewhat autobiographical, especially considering that author Mohsin Hamid is also a native of Lahore who attended Princeton. The title of the book is reminiscent of Anne Tylerís The Accidental Tourist and contains themes which are not dissimilar, mostly centering on a manís inclusion into a world he isnít sure of and being pulled along on the tide of life.
The novel is told from the second-person viewpoint, often switching between the American past and the Lahore present. This serves to define the difference between the two ways of life and cultures neatly, as well as creating another story around the main plotline of Changezís life in America.
The novel has an effective, slightly chilling open-ending. The book, in general, can be quite negative, yet strangle beautiful and compelling. Itís fairly short, really more a novella than a novel, but this just makes it easier to pick up and enjoy. The characters are realistic and unique, the storyline compelling.