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.

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

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Bollocks, what's your bloody take on things then?