The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Harcourt, Inc., New York, 2007
Borrowed from my library.
A strange, suspenseful novel that touches on current issues between east and west, The Reluctant Fundamentalist opens as Changez, a Pakistani man who has spent time in school and at work in the US, approaches an American on the street in Lahore.
Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services. From page 1.
Changez invites the stranger to a cafe, tells him of his years in college in the US, of his job with a financial firm and his relationship with an American women. Throughout this story he tells of his struggles with choices, of his distancing from his home and his culture, almost with a sense of self-revulsion. He pauses to address the stranger, questions his background, his reason for being there, then returns to his tale. He is disturbed by his own response to 9/11, but the world and his place in it shifts after that event.
This is an odd quirky book layered with anger and black humor. The stranger never says a word, we don’t know what his mission is. We’re not sure of Changez’ politics. is he simply a college lecturer or an Islamic fundamentalist? Are these two men assassins sitting across the table from one another? Their late night walk back to the stranger’s hotel seems to answer this question, but does it, really?
As I read I kept thinking of Scheherazade. Is this story a seduction? When it ends will someone die? Hamid gives his character’s voice that kind of power. I enjoyed this strange thriller and recommend it to those interested in unusual literary form. Just don’t expect any clear answers.