Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I was in line to buy something else at Barnes and Noble, and I turned and caught sight of a table of books being sold for 8$ and under or some such mess. This was sticking out in there. The name got my attention, the summary of the plot gathered even more, and before I knew it, I tucked it under my arm in preparation for purchase.
"Such journeys have convinced me that it is not always possible to restore one's boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship: try as we might, we cannot reconstitute ourselves as the autonomous beings we previously imagined ourselves to be. Something of us is now outside, and something of the outside is now within us." pg. 173-174 of the hardcover.

Indeed. "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid is the story of a Pakistani man and an American person sitting at a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan, while the Pakistani, named Changez, narrates how this chance meeting has come to be. Changez is introduced and immured in the upper crust of American life. After graduating from Princeton, he goes to work for the top valuation firm Underwood Samson. He gets romantically involved with a beautiful classmate, Erica, who shows him to the nightlife of gallery openings, night clubs and parties. Of course, this is all months before 9/11. After that most famed event occurs, things begin to turn upside down in Changez's life. Politics begin to pervade and corrupt his identity in America and his home country. The novel is the story of his loss and change as he attempts to deal with these new antagonizations.

This is intelligent and colorful prose about a man struggling with education, identity, love and culture. I would not say moving or stirring; it's not something that aims for the melodramatic* nor does it really cut that deep into any particular media-galvanizing subject. But it makes a statement about the inner and outer workings of America, from the way it treats it's "own" in peace and war time, to the way it's character1 looks to other countries (which in turns shows the way it looks at other countries).

There is also a solid and interesting love story here. This spiritual love triangle develops as Changez falls in love with the free spirit Erica, whose heart is in still in bondage to her boyfriend Chris, who died years ago from cancer after smoking one cigarette. Originally, I was going to write that the plot above is not real story but just the background for having the romance set against something dramatic. But, now that I think about it, it's quite possible that Hamid just used the love story to point you to the more important, political matters unfolding behind it.

A few people on Twitter said Hamid was overrated and annoying, although I did not find anything to make me agree with these terms. Especially since I haven't heard of him until I picked up this book. So, I will say out of my experience that this is at least worth a rental in the library, and you can feel it out from there. As for myself, I definitely thought it was worth the purchase.

*It doesn't have to be melodramatic to be moving. As a matter of fact, most literature that attempts to move me would stay away from the melodramatic.

1) Took this term right out of Obama's mouth from yesterday's Health Care Reform Speech.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Prayers for the Assassin

So yes, after putting down "Assassin" by Ted Bell last year, I've attempted another chisel-faced espionage novel. People in the literary world are always coining their own phrases. "Steampunk", "Cyberspace", "Postmodernism" (well, not that one)..........I would like to coin "Chisel-faced Espionage". This phrase is to define the sub-genre of espionage concerning characters who are exceptionally good at, like, 10 billion things (the main character in this novel is a god* when armed with a knife, can endure all kinds of pain and psychological tests, and is handsome and untouchable to boot), and also are in the top infrastructural brass: heads of National Security and Presidents, top computer hacks, the nieces and nephews of said figures who are also super-intelligent and powerful in their own way......such a conservative view of life. Only the ones with money and man-made authority are the ones who matter. But I digress.......I've completed Robert Ferrigno's chisel-faced espionage narrative "Prayers For The Assassin".

"SEATTLE, 2040. The Space Needle lies crumpled. Veiled women hurry through the streets. Alcohol is outlawed, replaced by Jihad Cola, and mosques dot the skyline. New York and Washington, D.C., are nuclear wastelands. At the edges of the empire, Islamic and Christian forces fight for control, and rebels plot to regain free will."
Rakkim Epps, a talented ex-member of the elite military group The Fedayeen, is hired by Redbeard, head of National Security, to find Redbeard's niece Sarah Doogan, a historian who ran off out of feared of being killed by the Black Robes for her discovery of a dangerous secret about the current state of the U.S., which is divided in almost the same exact geographical fashion as the American Civil War, except instead of by North and South, this is by Muslim and Christian. Add in things like the romantic relationship between Rakkim and Sarah, the partial scorn of this by Redbeard, Redbeard being blamed for his brother's murder by his brother's wife Katherine, small discussions on the conflicts and similarities between Muslims and Christians, and a murderous, anarchic and intelligent ex-Fedayeen member named Darwin (which I'm sure is purposefully named to reference the naturalist) also after Sarah under the employ of the powerful and rich Muslim The Old One, and you have this sprawling story.

I remember, a long time ago, I went to Borders with a friend, and as I was leaving, my eyes spotted this book. Rather, I spotted a book with the word "Assassin" in the title, and I was immediately drawn. I read about the future world split by religion after a nuclear bombing, and I vowed to pick this up at some point in life. That was in 2006. A couple of years later I did, and was satisfied and disappointed at the same time.

This is really a novel in the literary style of "God's Spy" (written about below), "Assassin", or James Patterson, in that it has that a seeping flatness and cliche in its writing, as well as a cast of self-righteous characters I have no real reason to keep reading about in any sequels. It is indeed informing in a lot of aspects concerning Muslim culture, structure, although nothing completely new. Robert Ferrigno also manages to paint a vivid future world, with tangible tension between the Southern Bible Belt and the newly instated Muslim world stretching from Las Vegas to New York, although there is hardly a voice for the Christians (I'm willing to bet Ferrigno was told to do this or did it himself to keep inline with the constant mentioning of Iraqis and Muslim in national media, to give people the impression they are reading something important). I also will not say the characters were completely 2-Dimensional...........

But ultimately, the only vested interest, just like "The Da Vinci Code", is to see what will happen next. To answer the questions posed at the beginning of the book, regardless of who answers them. Rakkim is slightly mysterious and headstrong (which is stretched thin in the story when it really could've just been said), but ultimately his fighting skills and ability to see the advantages and disadvantages in any given environment before a fight is what kept me interested in him, since he and a few other wholesale good guys were the only ones capable of answering said narrative questions. Those two traits were possessed in addition to a fun personality (for the most part) in Darwin. But of course, him being the only person with an actual dynamic world within his character (which is said but not shown), basically just appeared as some skilled, maniacal jester.

So, pick it up if you're still interested. As for myself, I really have to make a list of which authors are aiming for which crowds.

*God - lowercase. I believe the author is a strict atheist, so that is said in application to the world of this novel.