Review – The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

reluctant4“I was, in four and a half years, never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker.”

pg. 33

Let me start by saying I hate books written in the 2nd person, so that is very likely going to cloud my judgement of this book.  By a lot.  I apologize.

Changez, a Pakistani man, moves to the United States to attend college and live the American dream.  In fact, while in the United States he is nothing but succesful, graduating at the top of his class and landing an elite job at a consulting firm.  He even has a relationship with a young writer that he hopes will blossom into something more.  But we meet Changez after all of this has come crashing down and he has returned to Pakistan, though we aren’t sure why.  He is telling his life story to an American man in a cafe in Lahore, the dreaded “you.”  The story has been praised as a suspenseful thriller and is endorsed by Kiran Desai and Philip Pullman on the back (I may have to rescind my previous assessment that a book endorsed by Pullman is sure to be good).

I did want to care about Changez and his story.  I tried.  But I had the darndest time trying to reconcile the Changez that was telling the story to the Changez that was actually living it.  Their voices were too different, it was strange.  It didn’t seem like a technique that was particularly purposeful either.  What was the point of telling this story in the 2nd person?  What was the point of the ambiguity of the man and his purpose in Lahore?   The ending?  It read like a gimmick to me, the whole second-person-ambiguity.  I didn’t care for it, and overall, it undermined the rest of the story which could have been a serious reflection on the aftermath of 9/11.  Even Changez’s name (an alternative spelling of Genghis) is gimmicky.

In the end, I thought Changez’s story was worth telling, but the way in which it was told was too distracting and was incredibly detrimental to the effect of the novel at large.

40% – Skip it.  There are better novels about this out there.

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3 thoughts on “Review – The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

  1. I have to agree that there was a lot to dislike in this book, but what you have to admire is the way the book is so ambiguous. How you perceive events is based on your prejudices. What did happen in the end? Have you thought about the two different possibilities, and which you think is most likely to have happened?

    When I first finished this book I wasn’t that impressed, but with time to think about it I realise how clever it actually is. It made me think about how difficult it must be to be of Pakistani appearance in the Western world after 9/11.

    Please don’t just dismiss this book – have a think about it!

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