Book Review: Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’

Posted on July 1, 2007
Filed Under >Adnan Ahmad, Books
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Adnan Ahmad

coverI finished reading Mohsin Hamids second novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist over the weekend.

His first novel Moth Smoke captured my imagination quite vividly with several fascinating monologues in the novel and a theme that had everything to do with my generation and that age of mine. The author in between these two novels has aged and matured just like his readers including myself.

The new novel involves only one monologue with a man named Changez telling his story to an American, sitting at a restaurant in old Anarkali in Lahore. He keeps both his listener and his reader intensely engaged for about 184 pages, which is the entire length of the novel.

The novels main theme revolves around an increasing distrust between the East and the West and a troubled love story that at times makes one almost feel sick deep within but its intensity never fades throughout the course of the monologue. In the end it is a story about a twenty two year old who acts his age in turbulent times and in a love triangle where his rival has long passed away leaving behind a psychologically damaged soul who may never love again.

Changez’ decisions in the post 9/11 insecure times, especially for the Pakistani community, were both irrational and impulsive. India-Pakistan tensions of 2002 with his family without him in Lahore, perceived, and often real, discrimination against Pakistani Americans during that time, and his mutilated romance with a fellow Princetonian, all play a part in his decision to quit and go back and take up a job of a lecturer at a university in Lahore.

Mohsin HamidJust like Dara, “the apostate” of Moth Smoke, Changez, the reluctant fundamentalist, too goes down the spiral, given the consequences and magnitude of his decisions, but somehow he stays composed throughout the course of this story, unlike Dara. However, Changez is a lot less compelling character than Dara Shikoh and that goes well with the complex and uncertain undertones of the novel, which is really not about fundamentalism.

Mohsin Hamid completely evades the daunting issues Changez might have had faced in Lahore upon his return and always gets lofty when talking about his native city. He does so may be because he wanted the story to be only about New York or may be to contain the length in this unique style of writing in a single monologue or simply because he wants these questions to linger on readers’ mind as he ends the novels on an unsure note. Like the question about the girl who never was his and may never be but still exists in his memory or the questions about the identity of the gentleman he had been talking to throughout the story.

About Adnan Ahmad: Adnan is a free lance writer and works in financial sector. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Photos taken from Mohsin Hamid’s website here.

15 responses to “Book Review: Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’”

  1. steve says:

    Akif,

    Chris=Christ, Erica = America, etc…even with such a supposed hidden context what is the story’s meaning. Not much different than what it is via the surface details. So he’s in love with America, which nips a budding romance post Sep-11 to pine for Christianity. So he’s unhappy and leaves for home.

    The problem with the book has been touched upon by others above. I’ll just add that you wish the author had actually dealt with the issues..he just expresses his sentiments as a Pakistani…view from the other side, so to speak. Nothing more. No insights, no complex thought, nothing. Big letdown. I feel you dont need a 180 page book to do this. Finally, if you identify with the political passion of the hero then you may like it, but ask yourself, do you really see a skillfully told story here? Or a great dance with language? I dont.

  2. Sourav says:

    I am yet to read this book. But post 9/11 a lot of such fiction has been coming out, especially because people increasingly wish t understand these issues better. People here might also like Khaled Hosseini.

  3. Asad says:

    I read and reviewed this about two months back. I liked it since it gives a very good overview of what an average Pakistani might have faced post-9/11.

    http://www.asadasif.com/index.php?itemid=91

    About the book, it exceeded my expectations. Many times since 9/11, I have tried to put my feelings and concerns to words but have failed each time. Mohsin Hamid captured my own thoughts on various issues and outlined the conflicts of identity crisis which I have often wondered about. I believe this book also gives good insight into the reasons for dislike of America. Many Americans wonder why the world dislikes them so much despite the good things they do. This book can be a good start to finding an answer to this particular question.

    Kudos to Mohsin Hamid for writing this book. I consider it money well spent.

  4. Shehzad A says:

    hmmm…maybe if he had more pictures in it, more people would understand.

  5. Akif Nizam says:

    Please forgive me for sounding sophomoric but I think most of the people who commented here entirely missed the boat when it came to The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It is almost entirely allegorical and reads mostly subsurface. Yes, if you read is like a anecdotal account of Changez’s life, it’s boring. But if you catch on to the real message early on and read it in context, you’ll have fun.

    Hint: Think about the names of Changez’s girlfriend and her former lover and who they really represented. Think about the fundamentalism that Changez keeps talking about throughout the book. Is that Islamic fundamentalism or something else?

    Co-incidently BBC has an article on the book this very day.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6426749.stm

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