Nancy Oakes's Reviews > The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
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's review
Feb 12, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction-from-pakistan

I have picked up this book so many times without buying it because I considered it to be just another post-9/11 book and I have not been interested in reading any books in that particular genre. It's a personal thing, needing no public explanation really, but as I'm trying to get through most of the books on the Booker Prize longlist this month, I felt I had to give it a read. So fittingly, I was wide awake last night, unable to sleep, & started this book just shortly after midnight of September 11.

I'm not going to go into the plot here because it's widely spread around in terms of reviews and synopses all over the internet. I will say that I was very decently surprised, for two reasons. First, I was surprised at the book's ability to hold me until I'd finished it about 3 am. I couldn't stop reading it -- thinking about it now, I found myself as captive an audience as the unknown person to whom Changez is relating his story at the cafe in Lahore. Second, after I'd finished it, I was just laying there thinking about it, and realized in a momentary flash of insight that this tale was highly allegorical, although on the surface, you'd think it was just a story. My surprise came this morning, flipping through some of the above-mentioned reviews, when a few reviewers had confirmed my thoughts that the character of Erica was most carefully formed as the allegorical stand in for America (which was one of the things that hit me at 3 am); I kept wondering why this relationship was such a big deal until after mulling it over I came to this conclusion. So, it seems to me that if you want to get more out of this book, you should read it with that in mind, because it totally changes the character of the entire book. I was, I must admit, a bit uneasy when at 3 am I thought of this, because then the book really got under my skin and I was more awake than when I'd started it.

Another thing -- I had just finished The Gift of Rain (also on the Booker longlist), and among the main ideas of that book, the notion of finding your own identity when faced with a most unsettling duality highly resonated with parts of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It was even more unsettling for me once I connected the two (set far apart in time and in space) in my own head. But it seems to me that the beauty of literature is not in the story telling, but in what is left after the story is gone. The Reluctant Fundamentalist will stay with me a long time after the Booker Prize is given and this either wins or doesn't. I guarantee that most people will feel the same after having read it.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants quality writing and isn't afraid to tackle an uncomfortable subject. If you want a piece of writing that will leave something behind in your psyche, then definitely pick this one up. I highly recommend it.

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