‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Moshin Hamid

It’s appalling that I haven’t written for my blog for nearly 3 weeks, although I have been busy revising for my driving theory test (which I passed yesterday, go me!) and organising the music for the student orchestra which I recently joined the committee of (a much more stressful task than anticipated!). This has meant I haven’t made such a good start on my reading list for the start of term as I would have liked.

The book I finished most recently was ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest. I picked to read it as it appealed as a book I might well have chosen to read myself even if it hadn’t been on my reading list and I must say the fact that it has been made into a film somehow made it seem more favourable. Yet when I finished it, I couldn’t quite make up my mind about whether I liked it or not.

reluctant fundamentalist

The narrator, a native Pakistani, tells the story of his years spent in America; his education at the prestigious Princeton university, his high-flying job in an American corporation and his relationship with a society girl who commits suicide. This all happens around the time of the 9/11 attacks and the narrator describes how he felt the city of New York changing around him.

The way that the novel opens is intriguing – not many books start in the first person addressing another person: ‘Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance?’ I imagine that when we study the book at university this opening line could well be a topic of discussion just by itself. Not only is it a question itself but it poses several questions to the reader immediately which is pretty impressive for the first nine words: who is the speaker? Who is he addressing? Why the formality? Are the characters strangers or is there a connection between them that will be uncovered?

The first person narration continues throughout the book and I’m not sure why but at the start of each chapter I kept expecting the narration to switch. Looking back I think it is because there is a huge amount of tension that it is built up by not revealing who this man is whom the narrator is talking to. However there are continual suggestions that the man is more sinister than first thought. I kept expecting the big reveal which never comes, which is perhaps why I can’t make up my mind about this book. At the end the tension and mystery reach unbelievably high levels but I personally felt there needed to be some relief. Who is this man?? What happens?!? The ending feels a bit like an anti-climax because you just don’t get to find out.

However I think that one of the books achievements is to show a perspective that is not widely expressed in Western literature and culture about the 9/11 attacks and the relationship between America and Pakistan. Hamid has managed to create a character in Changez who you still feel sympathetic towards despite his opinion on 9/11 which could have caused a lot of controversy within the novella. Instead I found I could appreciate his viewpoint even if I couldn’t fully understand.

 

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