Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Reluctant Fundamentalist or
click here to read Kali Ravel's review.
Mohsin Hamidís second book in English (his first was Moth Smoke, published in English in 2000) is an interesting novel about a Changez, a Pakistani man who belongs to an upper-class family living in Lahore, Pakistan. He comes to the U.S. to attend Princeton University and does the usual college thing - go to classes, sleep, maybe have some fun. The bright young man is asked to join a major international firm with an office in New York City that valuates other companies, a very good opportunity for Changez to advance in the world. He meets a woman, a Princeton classmate, and becomes romantically involved with her. The problem: she is still in love with her deceased boyfriend.
In Hamidís narrative, the reader is the listener in a one-sided conversation with Changez set at an outdoor restaurant in present-day Lahore. The reader, as the listener, has connections with the CIA or FBI - or at least that is what Changez thinks.
Changez does well in New York City, making good money and with a high potential of rising in the companyís ranks - he has the support of a major player in the company. He also has his girlfriend. All this begins to crash when two planes fly into the Twin Towers on September 11th. People begin to look at him differently, wondering if he could be a fundamentalist terrorist. They make comments to each other about him, behind his back and at times in front of him. Some avoid getting near him. The reaction of people to him, especially those with whom he works, borders on paranoia.
Changez starts getting paranoid, too. He does not shave his beard, and his co-workers as him to shave in order not to scare others off. His boss sends him to help with the valuation of a company in Chile as Changez grows increasingly unsure of himself and concerned for his family in Pakistan; his home country and India stand on the verge of nuclear war. He becomes disillusioned with the U.S. as it seems his adopted country supports India while Pakistan is officially helping America against the Taliban in Afghanistan. His worries overtake him, his work suffers, and his boss becomes upset with him.
Eventually Changez decides to leave Chile, return to New York City then go back to Pakistan, where he lives with his parents and teaches at the local university - and becomes involved in protests to reform Pakistan. Over time, Changezís resentment toward America waxes at the U.S. use of Pakistan to kill Afghanis; Changez is not a fundamentalist until he is made one. Even then, he is not like al-Qaeda terrorists, but a person who wants things to be made right in Pakistan and in the world.
This novel is set against the backdrop of September 11th the events that followed that horrible day. This book is recommended to those interested in Pakistan, Muslims, September 11th, and Pakistani culture.