Friday, April 10, 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

So after much thought and debate the other day I decided that out of 'Daphne' by Justine Picardie, 'The White Tiger' by Arvind Adiga, 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood, 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' by Mohsin Hamid and two Salman Rushdie I would read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Now my reason was that this was the book I was actually the most reluctant to read out of all of them. Why? In my own head despite a rave review from one of you, I had this book down as being really, really bad. I don’t know who I over heard being less than complimentary about it but their opinion had stuck. The fact that it was short meant that the difficult hurdle would be over and I could get on with reading something else. However I found myself engrossed in a book that definitely isn’t a thriller but makes you turn pages as fast as one.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a post 9/11 book which looks at how such a horrific moment in history has affected us all. The book is told through a conversation that Changez, the narrator, has with an unnamed American stranger he joins for afternoon tea in a Lahore cafĂ©. He tells the man his whole history, how he fought for scholarship to get into an American College, Princeton in fact, and then becomes a high flyer in a multimillion pound making corporation falling in love with America and an American woman along the way. However after 9/11 everything in Changez’s New York life changes and he is never the same again.

From doing some research on the internet it appears that there is rather a large bout of criticism going on that this is an anti-American book. I wouldn’t describe it so at all. Yes I admit when Changez admits to his dinner companion that he ‘smiled’ when the World Trade Centre crumbled I almost put the book down in disgust but I am glad I carried on. What Hamid does with this book is look at how relations rapidly declined between America and Muslim countries. He also looks at how some Muslim people were treated by the city of New York and its people after 9/11 regardless of where they came from be it Pakistan or Philadelphia but instead on their Muslim looks, people were spat at, avoided and segregated. It also talks of how for Changez a man who is totally ‘an American’ in his head from his college days and living in New York becomes torn between what his current homeland is doing to his original homeland and its neighbours with the air strikes.

This truly is an incredibly clever novel and really makes you think. You need to go into it completely open minded and be prepared to look at things from all angles and that in itself with this particular topic is quite difficult, but then reading should challenge you and take you into the minds of people you wouldn’t normally. I am wondering if that’s why this book through writing style and getting into complex characters heads strangely reminded me of American Psycho, which though I doubt I will ever read again is a masterpiece. If I had any complaint with the book it would be the love story between Changez and Erica. I think Hamid slightly over dramatised and sensationalised that part of the book when he didn’t really need to. I thought the ‘open’ ending of the book was brilliant though, again it will make you think.

I am really pleased that I gave this book a go despite my reluctance I found it challenging thought provoking and also incredibly readable. I was quite reluctant to finish it… ok, have I used the word reluctant in conjuncture with this book enough now? I would seriously recommend this and again goes to prove that the long listed and short listed Man Booker nominated books are definitely worth reading even if some of the actual winners aren’t. More on that next week when I get round to reading The White Tiger. Hope your all having a lovely extended weekend so far? Reading much?


kimbofo said...

I read this book last year and didnt particularly like it. Not for any of the reasons you stated, but on the basis I couldn't stand the narrative style, which addresses an unseen person, so you're forever being interrupted. This means you can never completely get lost in the story because you're constantly being told this is a story. Does that make sense?

As to my Easter reading plans, I've got a few books lined up but am yet to tackle anything. Have spent too much time online today researching kitchen appliances for an impending kitchen renovation. How sad is that?

Now about to embark on a search for a cold pint of Guinness. Don't know if any pubs are open today or not, but I shall soon find out!

Unknown said...

I'm really pleased that you enjoyed reading it!

I thought it was a very cleverly written book, and the way it challenges your prejudices, and makes you see how lives changed for muslims in America after 9/11 was very thought-provoking.

I'm having a great Easter! The in-laws are looking after my boys most of the time, so I have lots of time for reading - hopefully I'll be able to finally finish Gone with the Wind!

I hope you enjoy some chocolate on Sunday!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I think it is good for all of us to read things that challenges us, and makes us take a broader view of things. That being said, I rarely practice what I preach!

I really liked White Tiger, and I'll look forward to your thoughts.

I am doing quite a bit of reading, as I am on vacation (with my kids, so there ARE limits) and have finished Gone With the Wind. In fact I finished two yesterday, and if I can just stop socializing on here, I will get them posted!

Candy Schultz said...

I have this book somewhere and now you have convinced me I need to give it a chance. Thanks.

Savidge Reads said...

Kim - I know what you mean about the fact the narration kept being broken by the narrator chatting to his dinner guest but I didnt mind it so much it added some mystery for me. It was the relationship with Erica I found the most bizarre part of the book and was in there for added shock and a little bit of padding.

Jackie - glad you are enjoying Easter, as you said I should try it I did and am very thankful as actually i was expecting it, not from your recommendation by the way, to be a bit lame.

Sandy - I am glad that someone liked White Tiger I am hearing so many varying reports!

Candy - you should definately give this a go!

Tamara said...

Hi, I've discovered you through Bookbath. I like your review of this book. I'm challenging myself to take some personal responsibility the learn more about 9/11 and current world wars. Currently reading the Accidental Guerrilla. I've seen this one and wasn't sure - but you've encouraged me to keep it on the possible list. Thanks.