Sunday, September 23, 2007

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I resist the urge to review works of fiction on this site. I read many historical and political books, and between those, I will insert the occasional thriller, suspense novel, or fantasy story. I don’t review these books because they don’t really have anything to do with this site. However, every rule has an exception, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is my exception to the rule.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist does contain some political commentary so it isn’t too much of a stretch for me. The entire book is set in one evening and is told through a narrative by the main character, Changez. The book begins with a chance encounter of an unnamed American in the Pakistan village of Lahore with Changez. Over the next few hours, Changez shares tea and a dinner with this American, and retells his own story of living in America.

It seems a younger Changez attended school in America, fell in love with a beautiful woman named Erica, and gets a job at a very prestigious firm in New York. This has the formula for a great success story. September 11, 2001 changes Changez’s world. He is out of the country on business when he learns of the World Trade Center attacks. His reaction is one that may or may not surprise the reader. After 9/11, Changez finds everything about him changing. His relationship with Erica and her ghosts, as well as his coworkers, changes.

What makes this book so powerful is the way the story is told. The entire book is a narrative from Changez. The information we get regarding his previous acquaintances, as well as the unknown American, are all gathered from the narrative. It is a form of storytelling I haven’t read before, and is worth reading simply for the uniqueness of it. The narrative kept my attention from the first page until the dramatic ending.

The politics of the book are not cut and dry. While Changez, and the author, become critical of American policies in the Middle East, Changez also points out the unique opportunities he got in America. While I disagree with some of the assessments in the book, I thought they were very interesting. From a political perspective, it was interesting to read the statements of a fictional Pakistani character from a very real Pakistani author.

I would encourage others to read this book. It is a very quick read because of the size and the way it is written. Mr. Hamid told that he had 1,000 pages of manuscript that he stripped down to 180 in order to reach the essence of the book. The book is a very good read, and will definitely leave you wanting to discuss it with others.

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