Jun 22, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - By Mohsin Hamid
I first happened to read about this book here. I was quite impressed with the interview, so I went ahead and bought it. I have mixed feelings about the book.

The book describes the journey of a young Pakistani man into the harsh realities of conformity to a world that is not his own. He slowly grows uncomfortable with his American surroundings, his discomfort further enhanced by the rejection by his lover. The troubles brewing in his homeland make him restless enough to leave the comforts of a plush and prestigious job and return to his homeland. The education and the liberal thinking do not help in handling the unease he feels when it comes to being a part of a minority community. The book touches upon current issues like US interference in world politics, though not in an in-depth manner. The book also focuses on the Pakistan – India relationship when Indian parliament was attacked, but only as an add-on to the already developed story line.

The writing style is simple and does not require extra effort from the reader's part. The story is gripping; I didn’t want to put it down till I reached the end. The portrayal of the main character 'Changez' is convincingly real. The emotions he goes through, be it during his romance with Erica or in the working environment, can be easily identified with. Initially one might feel the depiction of Erica's character a little fatuous (her longing for her dead lover being so overpowering as to shadow her feelings for Changez) but at a later stage one automatically empathizes and connects with the turmoil she goes through.

The book is written in first person, which is all right, but the setting, where the listener is addressed in the book (an American who is visiting Pakistan) is never involved in the scene, looks pretty artificial. I mean, imagine telling your life story (which is quite eventful and long) continuously without a break. Here is a total stranger (a Pakistani, who with his long beard which looks pretty menacing) who is insisting on spending more time with you in this unknown place where fear is the norm, would you not be fidgeting and itching to get out after half an hour? Yes, there are instances where the narrator acknowledges the listener's discomfort, still it does not sound very convincing.
Overall, a decent book to read up on a weekend.

3 comments:

Jabberwock said...

...the setting, where the listener is addressed in the book (an American who is visiting Pakistan) is never involved in the scene, looks pretty artificial. I mean, imagine telling your life story (which is quite eventful and long) continuously without a break

Well, Hamid does discuss the limitations of this sort of literalist interpretation in the interview. Did you see this bit?

People often get literalist about these things. They ask me, "Could Changez really have spent 3-4 hours talking to this American tourist in Anarkali Bazaar, with the other guy just sitting there and listening?" and the answer is NO, of course he couldn’t have! Basically what’s happening here is that you’ve walked into a darkened theatre and there’s one actor on the stage taking you through the play...I think we often deliver realism in playful ways... In a book, which is a packaged good, why can you not have an intermediary who allows you as a reader to move from your own world into the world of the narrative, and to discuss that movement.

RustyNeurons said...

Yes, he does. It's just that in a book, (as a reader I feel) it does not come out as effectively as it would in a play.

priya said...

Hey, you read this! I was planning to pick this up on my next trip to the bookstore (which the spouse very cunningly keeps postponing owing to the holes it can blow in his ever-diminishing wallet). Will read it n see how it goes..