Gunjan's Reviews > The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
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's review
Feb 16, 2008

really liked it
Read in February, 2008

Fear is so unique an emotion that it has the ability to create a religious zealot, an impassioned soldier, and a dutiful citizen all at once. Quite naturally, we can say that the universal outcome of fear appears to be a sharpened sense of nationalism. From this, we extract feelings of pride, of devotion, and motivation to defend our countries with any means necessary.

Mohsin Hamid gives us a simple and elegant lesson of how fear evolves, in the ever-popular and persistent struggle between east and west, as both sides attempt to educate the other in precisely the right way to live.

This short, tense novel is also on occasion, blackly humorous. In this passage we see our Pakistani narrator as he “handles” a beggar in his homeland while in conversation with a nameless American man.

“But why do you recoil?” Ah yes, this beggar is a particularly unfortunate fellow. One can only wonder what series of accidents could have left him so thoroughly disfigured. He draws close to you because you are a foreigner. Will you give him something? No? Very wise; one ought not to encourage beggars, and yes, you are right, it is far better to donate to charities that address the causes of poverty rather than to him, a creature who is merely its symptom. What am I doing? I am handing him a few rupees-misguidedly of course, and out of habit. There, he offers us his prayers for our well-being; now he is on his way.” –p.40

I don’t pretend to completely understand Hamid’s protagonist, Changez, because of the Indian-ness of my name or the birthplace of my parents. I do however, understand the frustration felt at watching, at what Hamid describes is the, “sports-event-like coverage given to the mismatch between the American bombers with their twenty-first century weaponry and the ill-equipped and ill-fed opposition, and also knowing that India is among the countries in the East being manipulated as the world slowly considers the consequences of our respective nationalistic desires.

Nearing the end, our author reminds us, “ it seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all under-cover assassins.” –p. 183
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