Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mohsin Hamid's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Mohsin Hamid's explosive novel "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" features the story of a brilliant  Pakistani  student of Finance in the prestigious Princeton University who excels in education as well as in his job but some higher calling towards his native roots dominates his existence after the cataclysmic event of 9/11 attacks. Changez is an affable and polite man, able to win the heart of any person who comes across him. His boss is very happy with his performance and assigns him challenging duties with handsome salary. His beloved, Erica, introduces him to her family and the New York elite. Changez seems have got everything in life. But out of the blue two planes crash into World Trade Tower and the event changes everything. Changez has to sustain hostile stares from Americans and Erica starts having neurotic problems. The post 9/11 America harks back to jingoism and xenophobia and Erica starts living in the past when she was in love with her former boyfriend Chris who died of blood cancer long ago. She goes far away from Changez but he still nurtures love for her. Changez is angry with the American government when it starts bombing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. He grows beard, performs badly in his job and irritates everyone. Eventually he returns to Pakistan and becomes a fundamentalist but not a core fanatic.

The novel is told in dramatic monologue style in the tradition of Robert Browning. Changez is in conversation with an American in a Lahore cafe throughtout the narrative and he is recalling his time in America to that American. The interlocutor makes his presence felt to the reader when Changez reports his uneasiness time and again during the conversation. This style is brilliant as the unknown individual American represents the whole America and Changez has many things to tell the Americans. There are sharp satirical observations against Americans in pithy sentences. The identity crisis of an immigrant is captured adroitly by the writer in lines like, "I belong neither to New York, nor to Lahore". Hamid has a commendable command over the language and the novel is a smooth read. It is short and engaging. There are many books retelling post 9/11 experiences but this one stands above the rest. Recommended!

No comments: