Red, White and Black

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: a review
17 May, 2007, 1:21 am
Filed under: Islam, Pakistan, Politics, social

I wrote up the following review a while back after reading the book, today I came this interview via ChapatiMystery and thought I would (stop being lazy and) post it:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is a very short read- just 111 pages. This is what the back-flap says:

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.

The story is narrated in first person and the setting of the narration is the food street at old Anarkali, giving it a very quaint feel. The book silently brings out the contrasts and contradictions in Changez’s life – but never passes judgment on them. They are just stated – for you to draw upon. Some really thoughtful historical parallels are drawn. [I won’t spill them here – but they did ring true.] One other thing that stood out: radicalisation of political beliefs is not necessarily the outcome of religious indoctrination. In fact, the protagonist of the book remains a non-religious person through out the book [he drinks, parties, sleeps around, never prays…]. At the end of the day it was just a matter of perspective. The change in Changez owes entirely to social and political stimuli.

If you are one of those people who enjoyed Moth Smoke, you will love this one. It was a much better book than Moth Smoke…simply because it left so much unsaid and allowed you to reach your conclusions. Highly recommended.

Just want to leave you with the following excerpt from the NYTimes interview, which says it all:

Is it fair to describe your second novel as a Muslim’s critique of American values?

That’s oversimplifying. The novel is a love song to America as much as it is a critique.

I didn’t find it so loving. It takes place on a single evening at a cafe in Lahore, as a charming, well-educated Pakistani in his 20s recounts his life story to an unnamed American stranger, who seems suspicious of him.

The American is acting as if the Pakistani man is a Muslim fundamentalist because of how he looks — he has a beard.

12 Comments so far
Leave a comment

He should always carry dvd copies of looschange2 for goraas and gorees. If i were him i would ask ericaa to watch it and see wether she changes as a result. Same goes for the ‘suspecting’ dude at cafe. There is hard evidence in this documentry proving 911 was inside job. It would be interesting to see what happens after that, and what these ‘suspecting’ gorays have to say.

Comment by Janam

Why thank you for that enlightening comment!

Comment by ayesha

Hi Friend…..

We have just released an Indian Blogs Directory. We plan to develop the largest online Indian Bloggers Community. So please go ahead and include your blog into our directory. You can link to us or write about us on your blog. Not mandatory for submission though.

You can submit your blog here:

India Counts

Comment by India Counts

Dear Ayesha:
many thanks for your insightful comments on my blog. I haven’t read the book yet so I cannot give any opinion. I published a review by a reader-friend on my blog who obvioulsy is not too impressed. However, my personal view is that this liberal turning fundamentalist has become another cliche (noting that cliches are often true). I read Moth Smoke and liked it as a racy book you could finish it one go and also enjoy the familiarity of the Lahore hash-induced scene but there was something missing. Anyway, I will have to read this one and share my thoughts with you..
cheers, RR

Comment by Raza Rumi

Sounds interestin . Wil try to get my hands on it.Can u plz tel wid whom da book is available??I hope penguin books or liberty books hav it .

Comment by salmanlatif

I too enjoyed the novel a great deal, and also posted on it, but we differ somewhat on Changez’s transformation, if there is one at all, besides him wanting out of corporate America. Your post made me revisit some of the events in the novel. I came here after quite a while, and I’m so glad I did.

Comment by I Me My

You have definitely piqued my interest in the book. The changing attitudes of people towards Muslims and the changed attitudes of Muslims has been a recurring topic. I am hoping this book is more insightful than cliched.

Great job with the blog!

Comment by Prabha

While I do enjoy what you write, I have to completely disagree with your opinion of Hamid’s book. Personally, I found it puerile and awkward–both in tone and style–and wish he’d just stick to the non-fiction he’s so much better at writing.

Comment by Sin

Well… people can agree with you but after reading the book I came to the conclusion: Mohsin Hamid is a confused man and sorry to say in no way is he a representative of the middle-class society of Pakistan.

Comment by asmakhalil

first of all , i am jobless if any body from elite class ,give me chance no is 03334496434 ,2nd thing, y pakistan is getting termoiled by jahadi taliban,? being a muslim its my faith jahad will remain alive till qayamat , but need to know about histiry? u all know well so no need to tell u about this but i come up with remedial measure! as i said earlier jahad is till qayamat , in zia era, zia accumulated the jahadis from all over the world , i mean true jahadis ,now in musharaf era ,musharaf blocked jahadis within country, wich is not good, y? bkoz jahadis were doing opperations in different territories like kashmir,russia,china ,sudan etc . musharaf blocked them. now musharaf would have to open its boarders to jahadis , so that pakistan get into peace and jahadis get their military oprations out the country not within the country. prior to musharaf era, there was calm and peace within the country ,i think there is something wrong with his policy ,as he sealed the borders for jahadis so jahadis started continuing thier military operations in pakistan waqas uppal from lahore pakistan

Comment by waqas uppal

i am about to get suicide

Comment by waqas uppal

Authentic words, some authentic words man. You rocked my day!

Comment by ligincelt

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