Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I'm a bit late to the game with this novella, published in 2007.  Mohsin Hamid has written a compelling story of a Pakistani man, Changez, who came to the US to attend Princeton and became enamored with the merit system set up in the country.  He is offered a high-paying consulting job right out of college, which involves him proving himself on a regular basis, wearing well-tailored suits, and speaking in a British accent so his ethnicity does not scare his clients.  Changez also falls in love with Erica, an emotionally unavailable woman mourning the loss of her childhood sweetheart.  He watches her come undone nearly in front of his eyes, and is powerless to help her. 
Changez is in Manila when the World Trade Center buildings are attacked, and watches the towers crumble on TV with a smile.  Although he has received much from his adoptive country, he cannot help by feel satisfied that America has been 'brought to her knees' by an outsider.  It's a powerful image, this man who cannot fake his frustration at being a constant fringe member of society in the US. 
The story is made all the more interesting by the format in which it is told: Changez is sitting with an unidentified American in a Pakistani sidewalk cafe, telling his story as a monologue without any input from his guest.  This man's purpose in Pakistan is never made clear, but Changez is a gifted conversationalist, and the topics never feel stilted.
As much as we call ourselves a 'melting pot,' this book feels especially resonant today with the DREAM Act and constant discussion of immigrant rights in our country.  I can see why a number of colleges and universities are using this book for freshman reading lists, as it is bound to bring up some great discussion.  As soon as I finished my copy, I called up Grandma in North Carolina (my steadfast book recommender) to figure out the ending.  At less than 250 pages, you can get through this in a day and leave the afternoon for devouring reviews and articles about it online.

1 comment:

  1. Happy to read your insightful review of this interesting book. I didn't know it has been recommended for college freshman reading but it does show a different take on how others see us. So glad you liked it. Looking forward to the movie but don't know when it's being released. XXXXX