Monday, May 07, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Title: "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Mohsin Hamid;

Publisher: Bond Street Books;



Price: $29.95;

Pub. Date: March 7, 2007

Listen to the author on NPR's "Fresh Air"

Over the past five years, bookshelves in stores are becoming increasingly heavy with titles that draw on 9/11. SOme books deal with the incident itself...what happened, how it happened and the bravery of the victims, the firefighters and the police force; others deal with the politics that may have caused the incident and still others deal with how it affected seemingly ordinary people directly or indirectly. Books in the latter category can be both, fiction or non fiction and a recent one that jumped out at me and which came highly recommended by both Laura and Sanjay is "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid (please click the name to find out more about this brilliant Pakistani novelist)

Written in first person it tells the story of Changez, a 22-year old Princeton graduate from Lahore in Pakistan. Months before 9/11, as an employee of an elite and reputed firm in New York, Changez seemed destined for the fast, jetsetting life of a young executive, but after the incident Changez couldn't help but notice that people (New Yorkers) treated him differently. It was subtle at first, but when he returned from a vacation in Lahore with a beard, their attitudes seemed to grow more hostile. This unfriendly reception, initially simply on account of his physical appearance, made him question his purpose in America, his goals, his loyalties, his patriotism, the cultural barriers between the east and the west and most of all, his identity. When formerly it would have been true to describe himself as a citizen of the world, he was now finding himself pulling for the people of his clan, which indicates to me that no matter how "globalised" the world gets, when it comes to the crunch many of us align with our tribal identities.

What I liked about the book:

  • Hamid employs a wicked narrative strategy...telling his story (a monologue) to an unamed American over the course of a meal at a Pakistani cafe in Lahore. The concilliatory but patronising tone that Hamid gives Changez as he talks to the American contrasts sharply with the upbeat tone gives him while Changez was pursuing the American dream. Also, by employing a first-person narrative the reader gets a wonderful insight into how a person from the east might view 9/11.

  • It had the power to make me feel uncomfortable (and I like books that will do that to me) because Changez is quite critical of the American way of life, its culture, society, values, and government...criticisms most of us would shy away from bringing up in our conversations.

  • Also, it made me look at young Muslim men more compassionately realizing that it isn't always easy to walk in their shoes in this part of the world.

  • I liked reading a Pakistani perspective on helped me see the Indo-Pak situation from the "other" side.

  • On a personal level, Hamid's book caused me to think about my dual identity and what it means to me to be a citizen of two countries.

  • FInally, who can resist a love story? Yes, it is and find out more!
This is a wonderfully-written novel and depending on your viewpoint you will either love it or be discomforted by it, but I can't see anyone being indifferent to it.

At the time of writing this review, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was # 13 on the NYTimes' bestsellers list.


hellomelissa said...

was this your vacation reading??

Laura said...

I am so glad you liked the book! and your write-up/review is brilliant! I am sure this book will be on my Top Ten list for this year. Now, I am again prodding you to read, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down! What a nag I am!!!

Lotus Reads said...

@Melissa ~ lol, would it surprise you if I told you I didn't read a thing in Chicago? I read this book over the course of three days, it's a fantastic read!

@Laura ~ you read some great books and yes, I can't wait to get my hands on "The Spirit Catches You" and please, do nag away, until I do. You know Laura, I have been wondering how this book is faring in the is not an Anti-American book by any means but some of the criticisms its protagonist levels at America might make a reader uncomfortable...I think it's a very brave book.

Sugarlips said...

Have you read his 1st book "Moth Smoke" ? Its a nice book :)

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" I just started reading and thanks for the synopsis:) I always enjoy your reviews :)

Stay Beautiful...!

Sugarlips said...

This is the one I'm talking about :)

Radha said...

Great review as always Lotus! The book sounds very interesting. And I feel the pain of the subtle discrimination the South Asians face (not just muslims) since 9-11. Would love to read this! Take care!!

Anonymous said...

I found some great fiction book reviews. You can also see those reviews in Non fiction book

gautami tripathy said...

If I ever publish, I hope you get to review my poetry.

Anonymous said...

sounds like this book had some effect on you... sign of a goodun!

You know, you might also find Invisible Man has a similar if not more profound influence on you; a book I think is more relevant this side of that fateful day...

karmic said...

Lotus, Another great book review!! You know I cannot stay away from your blog even on vacation? You just do amazing book reviews and posts. Thank you so much, you bring much to us readers!

Also thank you for the acknowledgement re the book.

Your review is really well written and you have encapsulated perfectly the rather uncomfortable issues that this book raises in people on both sides, that is both for Muslims and non Muslims and about identities and personalities that morph from one in to other and somewhere in between. I will surely have to read this book when I get a chance.

Perhaps not everyone will go back to their tribal identities in a crunch. I believe some do not have strong "identities" to begin with. If that is the case what and who are they? They are not at home in any world in the true sense of the word. I wonder if there are books that have explored the people who feel this way?

Also the response the character has when he comes back with a beard reminded me of the warnings I got from some well meaning friends way back in the 90s after religious riots in Bombay. This might have been after the attacks following the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya. I was told that some people have been killed just because they had beards and hence assumed to be Muslims. I was visiting India and they thought I might be better off getting rid of my beard like some of them had. Scary eh? I did not change anything though, being stubborn that I am in some ways.

I am glad the book made you uncomfortable, which is why I was so drawn to it in the first place. I remember being completely riveted by Terry's interview with Hamid on fresh air. I thought you might like reading this book, glad you liked it.

The other question I had about the book, is the shadowy American that the principal talks to, is he ever elaborated upon? Or does he serve as some sort of metaphor for the state apparatus which post 9/11 has become more secretive and less accountable? This shadowy American was mentioned in the fresh air interview but not much was said about it. I am wondering if both Terry and the author Hamid decided to leave that aspect for us to ponder about?

Again I cannot wait to read this book and thank you for such a great writeup. :-)
Sorry my comment is so long :-/

Lotus Reads said...

@Sugarlips ~ Thank you for saying what you did! I'm so glad you stop by and leave me input. I have heard quite a bit about "Moth Smoke" and it is definitely on my list of books to read. SL, you must give me your impressions on "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", I would like to discuss the book with as many people as I can.

I couldn't access the flickr account for some reason?

Lotus Reads said...

@Radha ~ 'tis true, that would apply to all South-Asians, I do agree. Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about the book. It's a really small book but man, there's quite a bit to discuss!

@Gilbert ~ Thank you! I will take a look!

@Gautami ~ It would be my honour to do that, seriously! Please send me an autographed copy, OK, my sweet poetess?

Lotus Reads said...

@Arukiyomi ~ I am so happy you pointed me to your review. "Invisible Man" is definitely a book I will want to read and keep. You have a beautiful book blog and your choice of books will make any bibliophile's heart leap with joy!

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ How very nice to see you here! I didn't think we'd hear from you till you got back from Denmark! Thank you for the very nice are really very kind.

This is an important book because it addresses the distrust felt between the East and the West after 9/11. We owe it to ourselves to read the book with an open mind.

Yes, I am one of those people with a blurred identity...I'm neither from the East nor west, just somewhere inbetween *sigh*

Religious riots in India can be I write this, Anita Rau Badami's book, the one where she talks about the riots in Delhi after Indira Gandhi's assassination, is coming back to me and sends a shiver up my spine. If you haven't read that already, you made me weep that we do this to each other!

I don't blame you for being curious about the identity of the American...but I am afraid I am going to have to keep you in the dark about his identity, if indeed he has one, and let you find that one out for yourself! :) Can't give everything away! ;)

Hope you're having a truly wonderful vacation and so appreciate you dropping by! Hope you get back soon!

Anonymous said...

I'm planning to check this out, especialy to see a Pakistani perspective of India. Sounds very interesting.

Thanks Lotus, for yet another great review!

Beenzzz said...

This was a wonderful review. This subject is very disturbing to me. It's amazing how stupid people become after something like this happens. All I have heard is how the country united after 9/11. Ok, who united? Was it just the caucasian folks, because anyone from India, pakistan, Sri Lanka, or the Middle East were certainly left out! Even now, my parents tell my brother not to grow his beard too big or people will think he's suspicious looking. Now, how ridiculous is it to think that in this vast "FREE" country we live in, we still have to alter our appearance.....we are more American than anything else.
Ok, sorry about the rant. I think "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" sounds like a wonderful read!

Lotus Reads said...

@A Reader ~

Hello! Mind you, it's a tiny book so there won't be that much reference to India, but what I read reminded me how there is more than one way to look at a dispute.

I think "Penguin India" have bought the rights to the book for the sub-continent. Have you seen the cover of the Indian edition? It's brilliant!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

@Beenzzz ~

I'm so glad for your comment and please rant away..we all need to talk about this because it affects so many of us! My "beard" was my passport...having lived so many years in the Middle East, my passport was stamped with many different stamps from the region and everytime I travelled to the US I would be asked to step aside and then given a thorough security check...but guess what, when I travelled with my spanking new Canadian passport to Chicago this time, no one asked me step aside. Ok, so maybe it was a fluke, maybe it wasn't, I don't know, but I always felt my passport with stamps from several Arab countries made me stand out on the security radar, who knows? I hope that's not true.

I have to say, I didn't mind the inconvenience it caused me...I understand why they have to be cautious, what I feel sorry about is how you are under suspicion just because of a few details you don't always control, like your physical appearance, or where you chose to live or your last name etc.

Glad you enjoyed the review!

Nabeel said...

try the video again .. should work.

Lotus Reads said...

Thanks, Nabeel, it did and I was fascinated!

Anonymous said...

I cannot wait to read this book!great review!
now that i'm done with school, i'm going book shopping. the only problem here- lugging those books back to pakistan when i move in a couple of months.

karmic said...

Hey lotus, Thank you for the kind words!
Yes, I am one of those people with a blurred identity...I'm neither from the East nor west, just somewhere inbetween *sigh*
Join the gang :-). Plenty of room for all of us.
Yes I will have to buy this book as soon as I return to find out what the American is all about and more.
re you being questioned because of your travel thru the middle east. I think they do profile to some extent based on travel history but it could have been a fluke who knows.
I recall hearing on BBC the case of a British citizen of Pakistani origin being denied entry at the airport while visiting the US. He was asked about his visit to Pakistan, he was here to visit Disney,his wife and child were allowed in but not him. No reason was offered. I can find the link when I get back, if you are interested.

Olivia said...

Ah, it's the many suffering for the sins of the few, that age old human story:

Old ladies clutch their bags more tightly when joined in the elevator by a black teenager. Pedestrians cross over to the other side of the road rather than pass a clutch of youth on the street corner wearing hoodies, and the list goes on...

shnaggy said...

before i finished reading this post i arranged with a friend to find me this book. that was the excitement it brought me.

btw, i would just like to ask if you have read In The Presence Of My Enemies by gracia burnham. i love it because it sees my culture from a different perspective.

you are such a must-read blog!!!

see yah.

Anonymous said...

I´m in the ray for this one and can´t wait to reaches me :)
I just wanted to say hi while I can (since I can´t from my own computer)

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ When do you get back? Hope you've got lotsa pictures to share with us? WRT profiling at the airport, I'm hoping it's a fluke too. I'd love the link if you manage to find it. Thanks muchly! :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Amna ~ You're returning to Pakistan??? I'm gonna miss you! I hope you'll visit Toronto before you go? Thank goodness for the blogosphere atleast I'll get to stay in touch with all your happenings!


@Olivia ~ So true. It's fear of the stereotype...we've all been victims and we've all been indulgers.

@Shnaggy ~ lol, you're sweet! I'm happy you find these recommendations useful. No, I haven't read "In The Presence Of My Enemies" by Gracia Burnham, but now that you speak of it, I will look for it, thank you!

@Milan ~ So nice of you to stop by! Sorry about your computer woes...hope things settle down for you soon. Miss your posts.

karmic said...

@Lotus, I return on the 10th. I will have pictures to share if I can get my act together and post them.

I will look for the link after I get back, a quick search came up empty, but it has to be out there, since I heard Dan Damon do a recap of this story on BBC somedays back.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Lotus,

Thanks for bringing this one to our attention.

Take care


Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ The 10th? That's tomorrow, yeay! Can't wait to see the pictures!

@David ~ You're quite welcome and nice to see you!

david mcmahon said...

Hi Lotus,

When you see the post titled Passing Sentence on my blog, you'll see immediately why I thought of you ...



Sai said...

Hey Lotus:
This is such a wonderful review. I heard the interview that you linked as well. I most certainly will look for this book.

Thanks again for the review.

Anonymous said...

Anjali: Thanks for the super review. I had heard a bit about this book, will certainly try and locate it.

BTW, will be lovely to see our friend Sanjay's photo's. Can't wait.....

Lotus Reads said...

@David ~ I saw the "Passing Sentence" post and am intimidated by the great entries...I'm going to have to nominate someone else to submit an entry, lol, but thanks so much for thinking of me!

@Sai ~ Thank you!! NPR always has some great book suggestions, don't they?

@Sylvia ~ Hi! Yeah, I can't wait either. Apparently he visited Sweden too, so we can expect a treat!

AVIANA said...


How are you and the budding Mozart doing?!

so you like AVIANA? Yeah I'm in love with that name too!

I will definitely but The Fundamentalist in my to read pile. Seriously! My life is so busy with work that I can't even breathe at times. But when i have down time from work like right now, i try to focus on music and stuff and the relaxing things go to the wayside like reading....

oh, so you asked about my voice...i want to put a file of my voice on my site...but don't want to put my music on there in fear of someone stealing my song in case my song is good! hehehe...

well i was told that i sound like me...GOOD! But my music teacher said that i'm more of a mix....he said...(traci chapman, shakira,mahalia jackson, natalie merchant all mixed up)....weird mix huh...that's why he said i am my own...but if he had to put a description on it those are the mixture of names that come up....hmmm....

oh well...thanks for stopping by!


Unknown said...

hey thanx for good insight am waiting for this book release have heard lots hope doesnt stir a new controversy

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Lisa!

So glad you could visit! I adore Tracy Chapman and Shakira...they have lovely strong voices, I especially admire Shakira's vibrato. Anyway, based on the singers you've picked, I would say you have a powerful voice and I would love to listen to you sing some day!

My little munchkin is doing fine...still writing songs and singing and wanting to go to a Performance Arts School. Thanks a million for asking!

Hi, Protegeoflife!

THank you for stopping by! Yes, when the book was first released in Europe, people thought it might not be accepted so well here in North America, but seeing that it is #13 on the NYTimes bestsellers list, I would say that people are reading it with an open mind. How is it doing in India?

diyadear said...

nice review lotus,
tell me how long do u take to finish a book???

david mcmahon said...

Hi Lotus,

That's not a drama at all. But would you care to critique the finished project?

It doesn't have to be a 1000-word thesis - even two or three paragraphs would suffice.

No problem at all if you can't!!



AVIANA said...

Hi Chica!

Yes, I'm back!

keep up with the bellydancing...the shimmies will come with have to remember shakira has been bellydancing since she was 5 years old...she's 30 now so that's 25 years of can't look at shaki and say you can't do it...keep at it..never know in 1 year or so you'll be shimmying all over the place.....seriously! :)



karmic said...

Hey Lotus.. Am back home in the US. It feels good to be back. :). I also managed to find the link to the story I heard on BBC about the British citizen who was denied entry in to the US. The link is here and there is some multimedia there too.
Hope you are having a good Friday?

Lotus Reads said...

@Diya ~ hiya! For an average sized book (300-350 pages) I might take 10 days to 2 weeks, anything less I can read in a week! :)

@David ~ That would be quite an honour kind sir, thank you!

@Lisa ~ I'm afraid my bellydancing days have come to an end...but I could be tempted to start again, who knows? :) Thanks for the encouragement cherie!

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ Hi! *Welcome back hugs*
I saw the link, it made for sad could they do this to a family? I guess air travel has changed forever. :(

david mcmahon said...

Hi Lotus,

Thank you for being so gracious. The story has now been finished and I've just posted it and included a link to you.

Must catch up on some sleep - it's past 1am on Sunday here.

Once again, merci


Lotus Reads said...

Hi, David!

Took a quick look at the story, it's great stuff! Also, you make me sound so important, lol, thank you!

I'm going to be out for most of the day, but I'll try to get the critique done before Sunday night our time, ok? Until then, let folks enjoy the wonderful story!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful introduction, and I've been thirsty for just a book like this. Thanks!

Literary Feline said...

I can always count on you to introduce me to books I am not familiar with and add many more titles to my wish list. Thanks for the review.

Cassiopeia Rises said...

Another great review my sweet friend. It looks like I will be reading this one. Oh, the pile grows and grows.


Optimistic Guard said...

Another great book review by a great reviewer, tell me do you do this professionally as well? look forward to reading a lot of books you v reviewed but it will take me a long time to catch up :-)

Lotus Reads said...

@Shashikiran ~ I would recommend this book highly. Hope you enjoy it!

@literary feline ~ You always say the nicest things...glad to be of service! :)

@BD ~ I know what you mean, my TBR pile is about to topple over. How are you feeling these days?

@Optimistic ~ No, no, I'm afraid I am very much an amateur reviewer, but thank you!

Anonymous said...

I will be in Toronto around the end of June or beg. of July. we HAVE to meet up :) really looking forward to it...

Unknown said...

It is strange, the whole globalization idea, because while it allows all cultures to merge or at least meet, it makes people cling to their cultures a little more. I want to believe it is a positive thing, but at the same time, I can understand how some cultures can be threatened.

phaseoutgirl said...

hey Lotus,

Just got this book as a present for a colleague. He liked it. i shall have to get my own copy too!


phaseoutgirl said...

Hi Lotus,

The friend who I got this book for lent it to me. I am amazed by this writer, how he evokes emotions in readers (me at least) that we often do not expect. You feel both his confusion, despair and torn loyalties all on one breath, and all brought about by an event that he really had nothing to do with.

It made me think a lot, it made me more sympathetic maybe to the dilemmas faced by people like him, when sometimes choices are made for us not by us, and sometimes these choices are due to circumstances and perhaps to a large extent tradition, culture and our own roots and beliefs.

I liked the book..

thanks for reviewing it..


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, I've been thinking about adding this to my TBR list for a few weeks now. In fact, I can't remember whether I have or haven't, but if I haven't I think maybe I ought to.

ReadnRyte said...

Came on to your review late...but very well written...and I must say it is interesting to note that even you caught on to the symbolism of 'Erica' with 'America'. One good read definetly.
I heard that Moth Smoke is also quite good..havent had a chance to get hold of it.

You write very well. I would definetly love to here your take on my review of 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' :)

Keep smilin'