Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - A Review

I read this novel by Mohsin Hamid non-stop, over a few hours this Sunday. It is written in a witty, engaging, conversational style, telling the story of a Pakistani boy who studied in Princeton and worked for a highly esteemed financial services company, only to find himself at odds with America in the wake of the tension of India-Pakistan stand off after the attack on Indian Parliament, 9/11 and the tragic turn in his love life.

There is a lot to like this novel. It is easy to identify yourself with the central character, the ambitions, constraints and reservations very familiar. Its style is engaging, and wit, disarming. The novel contains a subtle description of life in Lahore, its oldness, its markets and its people. It depicts New York too, may be with less conviction, but with no less love.

However, it suffers from - in my view - one crucial drawback. Conviction. It remains difficult to fathom why Changiz - the central character - does what he does. There is a certain unreasonableness in his demand on America. His tragedy in love does not convince us of the cruel inconsideration of the modern, material civilisation, which it plausibly could; it stands out like an accident, a sad turn but really an event unrelated but in narrator's mind.

I close the book - even after its intriguing end - thinking, but who is America. Changez does not think of all the kindnesses of life, but blames a whole country for what he thought was injustice, never trying to put it in perspective or assessing its fundamentals. He is poetic in his hate, poetically imprecise. And, that, in this world of real fundamentalists and real hate, sounds unconvincing and unreal.

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