Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
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Sep 29, 08

bookshelves: terrorism

** spoiler alert ** This is a lovely, short, very easy-to-read post 9/11 book.

The structure of this is tale is Changez telling his personal story to a burly American visitor (probably a spook of some sort) to his country, in his function as a guide to Pakistan. The tone was very reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling, at least as far as I recall from my reading of Kipling many years back. Think The Man Who Would Be King. This makes sense given the subject matter of the book, colonialism versus the third world.

Changez, born to fading gentry in Pakistan, has attended Princeton on scholarship, gotten a lucrative job with a top tier financial company, and is in love with beautiful, blond upper-class Yank. Life is good. But when 9/11 happens he discovers that he feels some satisfaction in the great giant being taken down a notch. In the newly paranoid USA, his background marks him as a threat to many and life changes.

Essentially what we have here is a foreigner (Changez) falling in love with America (get it? amERICA), but his amERICA is too damaged by the premature loss of her boyfriend to cancer at age 22 (Read Vietnam or whatever other fall one might choose) to cope. The result of this is that amERICA suffers from extreme nostalgia and becomes incapable of truly embracing Changez (subtle).

Erica’s father irks him with presumptions about corruption in Pakistan. He sees a “typically American undercurrent of condescension” (p 55) American indifference to third world concerns is noted repeatedly here. It is no secret that the USA is notoriously unempathetic to the concerns of others since the Marshall Plan.

Fundamentals here are the tools taught him in his finance career (efficiency). Fundamentals are implied for other things, knowing who you are, what your place is in the world. There are, surprisingly, no overt connections made to religious fundamentalism. Presumably one of the author’s points is that the values held high in the west (efficiency uber alles) are just as unfeeling and extreme as those of the religious nuts.

I did not take this as a personal tale. It is a metaphoric one. I mean the main character has but a single name, Changez. For that alone, how could the book be anything other than metaphorical? So I was not troubled by the contradictions in the character. For example, Changez feels an affinity with the jeepney driver in the Philippines, yet the choices he makes are all to strive within the western world. He manages to get a scholarship to attend Princeton, but feels it necessary to hide his relative poverty. What? Are there no other scholarship kids at Princeton? He is elitist in his orientation, wanting to hang with the rich kids, wanting to work for the heavy hitter financial company, even after it becomes clear to him that the work will cost people their livelihoods, wanting to be with the crazy girl when it is clear that she is over the edge. It is not America that rejects the foreigner here, but the foreigner who rejects America. So it is not a personal tale. It is a metaphoric one. It would have been better had the walking symbols here been made more reasonable, had their desires and impulses been a little more grounded in flesh and blood reality.

You’re not a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Kamil Great review and even nicer interpretation of the story.
However, I do not think the choices Changez made being a kid are in contradiction with the shift that he went through becoming a man. America/western world seduced him, by welcoming him, showing great promise but somehow never letting be embraced totally, finally closing itself from him, as Erica did.
He chased the promise, as a student but somehow felt a out of place.
While young Jim was foreign in regards with social class, Changes had also cope with cultural differences. That made all the difference, especially while the culture/world he grew up in started to be treated as enemy by the group he started to assimilate.


Will Byrnes Certainly a reasonable interpretation


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