BOOK REVIEW: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Title: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Author: Moshin Hamid
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 6 June 2013
Goodreads Summary: At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting . . .

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite "valuation" firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

{ Review }

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is part of a group of books that have had their covers completely redesigned by 'street artists' which are all rather snazzy looking so you should definitely go check all of those books out.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book at all and to be honest it's not the sort of book that I'd usually go for. It's basically about a young man named Changez who moves from Lahore to the USA after gaining a place at the presitigious Princeton University. He then secures a very good job with a Underwood Samson, a huge valuation firm, and he really does seem to be living the dream. However, after the events of 9/11, people start to treat him differently and he ends up back in Lahore.

Curiously, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is written from the first person perspective and is basically one side of a conversation that Changez is having with an American he has just met in a cafe in Lahore. It is written retrospectively so you never hear anyone else talk and the replies from the American are inferred by Changez's replies. This is the first book of this kind that I've ever read and it was most fascinating. I would say that the narrative technique is the best thing about this book because it was just so unique. As you never hear what other character's are saying or feeling, it almost becomes a sort of game whereby you have to guess what the other person said by Changez's reaction which is interesting.

As for the plot, I wasn't particularly impressed. I believe that some people study this book at school and I can see why because it raises many issues to do with racism and immigration, subjects which are still a hot topic in the USA, but in some ways, I wonder how it made its way onto school reading lists. The plot doesn't have that much substance in the sense that not a lot actually happens. I thought that this would focus a lot on the treatment of muslims post-9/11, but this was not the case. The story was slightly convoluted by a sub-plot involving Changez and an American girl, Erica, but what she brings to the story becomes less and less significant to the greater plot even though it starts to take up more and more of the narrative which is perplexing.

To top it all off, the ending was thoroughly confusing. It is a sort of plot twist (I think?), but to be honest, I wasn't really sure and this is one of the flaw's of the one sided conversation style of narration because it's all about what Changez is saying, not really what he is feeling and so it wasn't that clear what was going on and who was doing what.

Also, I had no idea that this book had been made into a film that was released in 2012. I haven't watched it, but judging from the trailer it doesn't really seem to have followed the pattern of the book that stringently so I'm not keen to watch it.

In conclusion, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a so-so book that has some great moments about the loss of identity and moving to a new country and racism etc, but for the most part it was a disappointment as I believe the narrative lacked focus. I would recommend reading this purely for the unique narrative style that is quite rare but plot-wise, I don't think this book has that much to offer readers. 

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  1. The cover or the premise isn't somethign I would usually go for, but glad to hear that it got you out of comfort zone.


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