The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

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As you know I love stories about the opposite view from the mainstream. I do not want to get to political but this is a neat story and a pretty quick read as well. I actually found this one in an airport book store on my way to London, which was almost a year and a half ago. Goodness time flies! The title sounded interesting and, as usual, without reading the back I purchased it on the title alone. Also the fact that the cover said it was being made into a movie, which I have not seen, made me think that it must be pretty good.

Hamid is a Pakistani writer who has written 4 books, this one begin his most famous, as far as I can tell. I say that because it is being made into a movie. He graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude, so the guy is “perty smart” as we say in the south. He also has a law degree from Harvard Law School. I found this very interesting about him –

Finding corporate law boring, he repaid his student loans by working for several years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company in New York City. He was allowed to take three months off each year to write, and he used this time to complete his first novel Moth Smoke. -Wikipedia

WOW! How awesome is that that his company let him take off three months to write. That is pretty coo, and speaks volumes about how intelligent this guy is as a professional and a writer. If you cannot tell I am impressed. Well enough gushing, on to the story.IMG_0997

The entire story takes place while the main character is retelling his life’s story over dinner with a stranger who is never identified. They are eating dinner at a restaurant in Pakistan. Changez begins to tell his story about his life. He went to Princeton where he graduated and beat out many other top candidates to work for a very prestigious financial firm. He also talks about his love life, how he was dating a girl who also went to Princeton. Their relationship it very rocky as she is still grieving over her high school boy friend that died. Their relationship never really took off despite many attempts and soon Erica is admitted to a mental hospital to help deal with her loss. Around this time Changez finds the stresses of his job too much and soon quits. Not long after the events of 9/11 take place while he is living in New York. Changez then deals with the aftermath of being Pakistani and living in NYC. Finally he decided to leave NYC and return to Pakistan where he becomes a teacher. Soon the stranger, whom he is speaking to at the restaurant, comes to visit him. It is mentioned that the visitor is very nervous of the surroundings, and seems on edge. The story ends very abruptly and does not give a clear picture of what happens or the events that transpire.

I read another review of this novel, and I have to say I did not get the same meaning out of it as they did. To me I felt that this story is about Changez trying to make it in a world by doing what everyone around him thinks he should. Work at the big financial firm, make lots of money, get in with the wealthy crowd. The interesting thing is that somewhere along the way he finds out that that is not what he wants.

The other thing that is very interesting that I did not see coming was that the story takes place before 9/11, so the character lives through those events. It is also interesting to see how he notices the change in how he is treated after the events. There is one scene that I remember where after the attacks he visits Erica at her home. Where just a few months before he was welcomed with open arms and there were smiles all around. Now he is more or less shunned and treated as a second class citizen. I will also say that at this point in the story Erica’s mental health is deteriorating rapidly so it could just be that her parents want Erica to get rest and visitors are not a good idea. It is hard to tell what their intentions are but you cannot help but think his race has something to do with how they are acting toward him.

The review I read also mentioned a lot of political stuff going on as well. I am not going to say that it was not in the story, it was there, but I think I mostly toned it out. As I mentioned above I don’t want to get political, but it is hard not to with this story. I think I was just focused on the character and how he was dealing with all that was happening to him.

The ending really raises a lot of questions not only about what happens in the story but also the intentions of the character. I think this is where you can start speculating about more of the political intentions of the character and the book.

When I finished reading this one I felt it was a very interesting story about how young man trying to make it in the world suddenly finds his life upside down and almost everyone turning on him. I also liked this because it was a kind of a different take on the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The book has also been mandatory reading for numerous universities around the US. I can easily see why this book would be an influential read for young impressionable minds.

The only thing I have somewhat of a complaint about is the ending. I am kind of on the fence about what happens. If you take is a one way then there are a whole bunch of questions that need to be answered. But if you take the ending another way there are no less questions. I like the fact that everything is not gift wrapped and served to the reader. Sometimes it is nice to have an ending where you are left hanging, ie. Inception.

I recommend this book it is a good quick read that has some awesome characters and some great themes. This story has something everyone can relate to and believable characters that are thrown into very real everyday life situations. That is another great thing about this book, it is very real and extremely simple. When you mix those elements you can get something really great which is why so many universities are making this book part of their curriculum. There is nothing fancy going on and it does not need it. Like I said this is a pretty quick read and you should check it out if you get a chance.

Manik

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