Book – The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Author – Mohsin Hamid
Year – 2007
Genre – Fiction
Bought for me by Mark Holdaway
Reaching the quarter mark in my hundred book challenge, I found myself reading something a little different to the standard fare of fantasy that I have been imbibing this year. A certain something can usually be read into any book that has the phrase ‘Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize’ emblazoned on the front cover, and thus I was looking forward to reading this one.
The basic premise of the book is that an American man meets a very polite Pakistani man in a cafe in Lahore. Changez then procedes to explain pretty much his full life story to the American, about how he was born and raised in Pakistan, before studying at Princeton, and going on to become a powerful business analyst in New York. The reader is left guessing for most of the book as to what Changez is now doing back in Lahore, and who the American he is with is.
The most striking thing about the book is its delivery. The whole story is written in Changez voice as he speaks to his American friend. This means that interrupting the descriptions of his life in America are mentions of how they are running out of tea, or that he really should try the local delicacies, or that it is quite usual for the lights to black out occasionaly in his city. This is, for me at least, an incredibly original way of writing, and with one or two exceptions where the diversions become a little distracting, I thought that it worked marvelously.
Instead, the problem lies within the actual story itself. The idea of writing a book about relationships between America and Pakistan is fairly common, particularly in this ‘post 9/11 climate’ (a phrase which particularly annoys me) and so I feel that the story needs to be particularly strong. Unfortunately I don’t think this one is. The relationship Changez has with America seems a little forced at times, and whilst I understand that the author is trying to show how difficult it is for him to understand his place as a Pakistani man in America, some of his actions seem to be massively out of character. The entire secondary plot relating to the relationship he has with an American girl – Erica – is sweet and touching, but ultimately so unrelated to the thrust of the book that looking back, I am unsure as to why it is there.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is by no means a bad book, and for what it is, I quite enjoyed reading it, particularly the style of the writing. Maybe I just missed the point somewhere along the way, but with the Man Booker nomination and the glowing reviews written all over the front and back covers, I expected something quite special as opposed to an easy reading, slightly sparse effort.