K's Reviews > The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
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's review
Nov 08, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: thought-provoking, southasia, culturalidentity

I liked the fact that this book managed to be both a quick and easy read and very thought-provoking at the same time. It was an interesting look at biculturalism, specifically east-west ambivalence. It made me think about some of my America issues, as an Orthodox Jew -- I never realized how American I was until I moved to Israel, and how much pride I take in qualities I have that were clearly influenced by my having grown up in America. At the same time, when I lived in America I always felt bicultural because my Orthodox observance and separatism made me feel like I couldn't fully participate in the mainstream culture. I think that that's why I often enjoy literature about American immigrants, first-generation Americans, bicultural characters, etc. (e.g., "The Namesake").

One of the things that bothered me, though, was my difficulty comprehending the main character's reaction to 9/11. Yes, I could see that he disliked American arrogance and the paternalistic attitude/bullying that often manifests in America's involvement in eastern countries. However, here was a guy who had taken advantage of the best America has to offer and was enjoying it -- how could he feel good about an attack on America? Did he feel no gratitude for what America gave him, things he clearly could not enjoy in his own country? I couldn't tell whether this was a flaw in the character or a flaw in the book, but I tend to think it was the latter.

I was also impressed with the writing. There are passages I really wanted to quote; unfortunately, I read this over Shabbos and no longer remember which passages they were.

a friggin sherpa!

the guy writes like a friggin sherpa! from the first you fall into reading the book like a dot! i mean the first sentence --excuse me sir but may i be of assistance? ah, i see i have alarmed you. -- who talks like that but a dot?! i felt like i was talking to dell customer service! and it goes that way for the whole book! lyrical writing my XXXXX! sure its lyrical, if you read it in dot! heres a guy who was shlepping yaks all over the himalayas and ends up at princeton!
you can take the guy out of the cave, but you cant take the cave out of the guy.
a friggin sherpa.

/end husband's rant/
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by M (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

M excellent - am eager to discuss, as always.
ps - amazon has brought me russo's newest, parrota's newest, thirteenth tale and another hornby ... cant wait til the summer ... ;)

message 2: by K (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

K Wow -- I'm drooling. Let me know about Russo's newest; I don't think the Amazon readers were too crazy about it. I'm also curious to hear about Perrotta's newest -- I really liked "Little Children," and I didn't read "Election" but I enjoyed the movie. I LOVED "Thirteenth Tale."

message 3: by M (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

M I also love discourses on identity. This was a lot of why I loved RF, it dealt with so much of what I love (see review). The writing is beautiful, I kept forgetting it was a novel. Khay did you also feel that the conversation style was forced? Did you feel erica was short for america?
As to the reaction, I actually liked that, because I suspect that many immigrants have this love/hate relationship with America - the very thing it provides is also a source of resentment - I think that's a very insightful point that I found quite thought provoking.

message 4: by K (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

K Interesting. I thought about whether the conversation style was forced, and decided it mostly wasn't. I give the author full points for that, because it's original, not easy to pull off, and made the ending that much more powerful (what did you think of the ending, by the way?).

I thought that "Erica" being short for America was a cool insight, and may in fact be the case. It's certainly a much more subtle name choice than "Changez," which I thought was a little over the top, although maybe that is in fact a Pakistani name; I wouldn't know. But if Erica was America, who was Chris?

I do see the love-hate relationship with America, but the book didn't help me understand it as much as I would have liked. I know the love-hate thing exists, and I recognize it, but the smile at 9/11 was completely out of the blue for me and was simply followed up with a deteriorating relationship with America. How many immigrants would smile about 9/11? Many immigrants are thrilled to be Americans and embrace it wholeheartedly, sometimes with more patriotism than born-and-bred Americans feel. But even the ambivalent immigrants would still recognize 9/11 as a tragedy, one would think. And if not, I would like to understand that viewpoint a little better.

The point he was making was insightful and thought-provoking, true, but I wish it had been explored more fully.

message 5: by M (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

M I thought chris was christianity, that america is too bound to its religious ideals to actually accept others.
Yea changez, not so subtle. The snooty AP listserve backed me up on the erica thing, i thought it was a cute twist.
the ending was WEIRD! so was it a set up the whole time?

message 6: by K (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

K Ah, Chris = Christianity -- interesting perspective. If you're right, though, then the anti-American argument is looking weaker and weaker. Christianity is crippling America? Hello? Like the eastern countries are religiously TOLERANT? That's a crazy argument.

I thought the ending was very interesting. However, am I really naive, or is it pretty crazy that America would send someone out to kill him for speaking out against America? Don't we believe in freedom of speech? Besides, aren't there lots of people who say far more damaging things against America who don't get assassinated, as far as I can tell? It didn't make sense to me. I guess it was a way of proving that his anti-America thing was justified the whole time -- see, Americans also assassinate those who don't agree with them. Right. In fiction.

message 7: by M (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

M well maybe its the irony of how the religiously open really arent. i dont know. i thought the thrust of it was more emotionally grounded anyway, so i didnt read that much into it - i also read it several books ago (tho i remember it staying with me for a long while).
i saw high fidelity tonight and i have to say, eh. book was way better.

message 8: by K (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

K I do agree that the religious openness in America may only be on the surface; however, even that is something. I still don't think you're better off in Pakistan.

message 9: by M (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

M tho they seem to have better restaurants.

message 10: by K (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

K It sounded that way, didn't it? We won't discuss the risks of hepatitis, etc.

message 11: by Skylar (last edited May 26, 2009 02:37PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Skylar Burris I preferred your husband's review (ummm...rant) on this one. I couldn't finish it. (I read about half.) I found many of the narrator's objections to America tended ultimately to be rooted in his disdain for our relative lack of class distinctions, though he did not put it in those terms. I didn't get to the end - so, America tries to assasinate him for "speaking out"? That sounds pretty laughable. Alas, sometimes we won't even assasinate well known terroists when we have them in our sites in the midst of war...I did think it was pretty well written, however, and I found the narrative style unique.

message 12: by K (new) - rated it 4 stars

K I must tell my husband what you said! I gave him a hard time for taking over my review (although as you see, I could have deleted it and didn't) and he told me it was much funnier this way. Your point about class distinctions is very interesting. I don't remember noticing that in the book, but I would love to look at it again. I'm curious how you see that, because that's pretty damning if that's the case. I completely agree with you re. the ending, although I suppose you could also argue that it was intentionally ambiguous and maybe was meant to say more about the narrator and his paranoia as someone raised in a more fundamentalist culture. I did wonder at times whether the fact that the narrator's issues with America seemed pretty weak and nebulous to me was a flaw in the writing or actually intentional, to demonstrate the narrator's weakness and the weakness of anti-American arguments that don't really hold up intellectually.

Skylar Burris I'll have to find a copy and skim through again to see why it hit me that way, but it did, repeatedly - I thought to myself - what he's really moaning and groaning about is that we let people move easily from class to class here, without the proper family heritage, etc.

message 14: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Khaya, your review was good but your husband's rant was priceless, perhaps you should suggest that he does this professionally. I was thinking of reading this, but perhaps now I wont, I too know the frustration of dealing with Dell customer services and personally I wouldn't want to read a book that reminds me of it.

message 15: by K (new) - rated it 4 stars

K Your comment cracked me up! My husband will love it; I will definitely pass it on to him. But you may want to give the book a chance despite your Dell customer service traumas; I thought it was interesting, if flawed.

Petra X I just listened to the BBC interview with the author. The character speaks like that because children of the well-off and well-connected in Pakistan are sent to the public (private to Americans) schools that the English set up in the days of the Empire before partition. Some graduates from those schools, along with politicians and other public figures really do speak like that. More a grandee than a sherpa!

message 17: by K (new) - rated it 4 stars

K I will have to tell that to my husband, who kind of hijacked my review when I wasn't looking and wrote the sherpa part. We're a little ignorant when it comes to Pakistanian dialects.

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