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Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance?
Ah, I see I have alarmed you.
Do not be frightened by my beard
I am a lover of America…
‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ is the story of a Pakistani man named Changez. Throughout the book, a short one at that, Changez talks with an American person about his short yet eventful life in America, and how he used to have a time of his life there and how it all changed one fine morning. The story revolves around the changes in perspective and events in the life of Changez after he lands a job in the land of Opportunities after finishing his higher studies from Princeton.
Two parallel sub-plots keep running from cover to cover of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ – one that of Changez’s career and the other, his affair with Erica. When Erica and Changez first met, it was almost a smitten-at-first-sight from Changez’s end. He tells his partner (the ‘You‘ as addressed throughout the novel) at the table in a certain cafe at Lahore of how Erica’s long bare legs sent a stream of shiver across his spine. At one point of his journey with fellow Princetonians in the lanes of Greece, he remembers ranting about his rich friends’ prolific spending habits,
I … found myself wondering by what quirk of human history my companions — many of whom I would have regarded as upstarts in my own country, so devoid of refinement were they — were in a position to conduct themselves in the world as though they were its ruling class.
As is the eternal clash of interest among the Oriental and the Occidental, Changez finds himself searching deep down into his conscience about the American-ness in himself or the lack of it in a foreign land, so far away from home. His relationship with Erica gets to a level of being inexistent and yet existing even if they don’t see each other or talk to each other for months. Erica’s boyfriend died of lung cancer in a time when she was not prepared to accept the truth, and the truth shatters her entire life in the long run. At some level, she tends to find respite in Changez, thinking him as his dead boyfriend Chris when they involve in coitus with each other, which, according to her, is the only way out for it to happen. Her inner self died of all that happened to her, and she never came to accept it to live the practical way of life.
Changez finds no sign of reluctance from Erica in their relationship and at the same time, he came to realise that he won’t ever be accepted by Erica as the man in her life. Around the same time, one fine morning, the World Trade Centre crumbled down like a sand castle in the heart of America, and in the process, made the world a tougher place to live in for people of Eastern Origin, alike Changez. Changez gradually delves deep into the realm of acute depression, being checked and harassed everytime he wants to travel, or being looked at dirtily in his office – all just because of his origin and blood.
I stared as one — and then the other — of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.
Erica’s love for her dead boyfriend and 9/11 conspires together and haunts down Changez from being at his peak of his career to the ground when he had to force himself against his well-wishers to go back to Pakistan and find his roots and support his country during the time of a probable devastating war. Erica kills herself, and that helps Changez to make his decision stronger. He leaves his job half way, and one fine day, reaches Lahore with a face full of beards that once cornered him with intolerance and quirky suspicion by the non-bearder race back in the Western horizon.
Changez’s identity was not questionable to anyone, except to his own self. He loses that battle, and in the way, loses the greater battle that life made him to face. He leads anti-American protests in colleges and Universities in Lahore, as a way to pacify himself from all the dark times that country made him to go through. At the end of his narration, Changez questions the ‘You’ of all the atrocities and sad realities happening throughout the world.
Mohsin Hamid shakes every reader from their own little world by the sheer brilliance of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘. His own way of narrative story telling stands out through every little detail in every single page.
Even after finishing the book, you tend to look back to your bookshelf, search for the title and wonder yourself how much ‘Reluctant‘ traits the ‘Fundamentalist‘ in Changez has. That way Mohsin Hamid truly deserves all the applauds of the world.
Overall Rating: 9/10
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