The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Review

Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Penguin Group
Pages: 184

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a metafictional novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid. The story is a dramatic monologue with an autodiegetic narrative.

The story starts at a cafe in Lahore, where Changez, a bearded Pakistani man meets a foreigner. Changez presumes him to be an American by his built. He volunteers to introduce this stranger to different Lahori delicacies. They sit down in a cafe and as dusk deepens to dark, Changez talks about his years in America.

Changez had moved to New Jersey from Lahore to study Finance at the Princeton University. He was also a part of the varsity soccer team, but had to discontinue playing due to an injury. In his final year, he got recruited by the Underwood & Samson Company, a small valuation firm who hired less but paid maximum.

On a trip to Greece from Princeton, Changez meets Erica. They feel a striking emotional bond from the conversations they have there. Their relationship unfolds and gets complicated as the story progresses.

After having spent four years in New Jersey for college, Changez moved to New York to join the Underwood and Samson Company, where he was a part of a team of five. The team members were both different and similar. Different because of the gender and racial diversity. Similar because all of them belonged to elite universities like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale.

During his stay in New York, he often thought about how New York was different from Lahore.

“Pakistan was many things, from sea-side to desert to farmland stretched between rivers and canals.”

Whereas, America had universities with funding more than the national budget of education in Pakistan.

The story takes a turn when Changez visits Philippines on his first work assignment. On 11th September, his last day at Philippines, a hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center at New York and everything changed overnight. He is then detained at the airport while returning to New York and is released only after hours of questioning.

He gets back to work, but keeps on hearing that Pakistani cab drivers were being beaten, mosques, shops and even people’s houses were being raided by the FBI. Changez thought all these to be rumors and certainly exaggerated. He thought these things happen to the poor and not to Princeton graduates earning eighty thousand dollars a year. But, disappearances of Muslim men and ghostly night-vision images of American troops dropping into Afghanistan were the only stories on news.

He just couldn’t take his mind away from this. It worried him as his family was still in Pakistan and Afghanistan was a neighbor to Pakistan. Muslims in America started to face discrimination in the business world. Rescinded job offers and groundless dismissals became very common.

That December, Changez travels to Lahore and finds out “things are not good”.

He fights a mental crisis and has doubts about his identity. Where does he belong to? America? Pakistan? Or neither? He is both nostalgic and cynical at the same time. He feels confused.

He returns to New York after spending few weeks at Lahore. He gets back to work, but continues to ponder over many scattered thoughts.

Finally, one day he decides to quit his job and permanently moves to Lahore.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an abstract and intelligently framed story. It continuously plays with your imagination and psyche. The narrative is unconventional but exciting. Also, being an Indian, the story gave me a different insight to the events of 9/11.

Akash Chaudhuri
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