The reluctant fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamid

Paper Book, 2007





Orlando : Harcourt, c2007.


"Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite valuation firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned and his relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez's own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love"--Book jacket.

Media reviews

It seems that Hamid would have us understand the novel's title ironically. We are prodded to question whether every critic of America in a Muslim country should be labeled a fundamentalist, or whether the term more accurately describes the capitalists of the American upper class. Yet these queries seem blunter and less interesting than the novel itself, in which the fundamentalist, and potential assassin, may be sitting on either side of the table.
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There's undoubtedly a great novel waiting to be written out of the anguished material of these kinds of east/west encounters. This book may not be it, but its author (who won a Betty Trask award for his first novel, Moth Smoke) certainly has the potential to write it.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
“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. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.” (Page 1)

So begins the creepiest one-sided conversation you’ve never read. The underlying fury builds and builds as this novella progresses to its disturbing conclusion. The speaker, Changez, is a young Pakistani man whose conversation with an American (who never speaks) at an outdoor café in Lahore is the clever basis of the narrative. He was brought up in the privileged class of Pakistan and attended Princeton. After graduation, he is hired by a prestigious NYC firm and progresses onward toward the American dream. He’s infatuated with fellow Princetonian Erica, who, unfortunately, is still in love with her deceased boyfriend and teetering on the edge of mental stability. Finally, events on 9/11 leave him feeling victimized and things fall apart for him, forcing him to re-examine his life, his opinion of the America he has come to know, and his definition of what home means to him.

The author’s intention is two-fold: to shock and to educate and he succeeds on both levels. After recovering from my growing anger over this Pakistani man’s accusations and assumptions about the country I love, I found myself actually considering some of his claims and trying to put myself in his shoes and look at America from a foreign point of view. Hamid is a master at comparing the two sides with varying degrees of light and dark and I found myself having a very emotional reaction to all he had to say. Much of it is very hard to take:

“As a society you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums.” (Page 168)

Eye-opening and brutally honest, seething suspense and drama make this a hard book to put down. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member msbaba
On first glance, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid appears to be about a brilliant young Pakistani national named Changez who finishes at the top of his class at Princeton and is hired by Underwood Samson, the most prestigious and world-famous corporate valuation firm based in New York City. We are encouraged by the title and the dark overtones of the dramatic monologue in which the book is narrated, to believe that somehow, by the end of the novel, Changez turns into a Muslim fundamentalist and implied terrorist. Wow, now that is a theme that really hits a bull’s-eye with the American psyche!

Most Americans are sincerely confused by what is happening in the world today. We see rampant anti-Americanism, frightening Islamic terrorism, news of successful professionals being recruited into the ranks of the terrorists, and we can’t imagine why. We hope to get inside the head of one of these characters and see the world from their point of view—perhaps finally understand what drives them to these drastic ends.

The book delivers on these issues and much more—very clever indeed! The monologue is narrated with spare, well-crafted prose that is often old-fashioned—and disconcerting. The archaic prose casts the story in a shroud of strangeness elevating the suspense and making the whole an unequivocal, unrelenting page-turner.

There is a marvelous linguistic and thematic trick built into that word “fundamentalist” used in the title and the text of the book. In the entire novel, religion is never once mentioned. Fundamentalism, in the context of terrorism, always refers to religious fundamentalism. But this book is not about a budding Muslim fundamentalist. So what type of fundamentalist is this, and why is he reluctant?

This is about a man fighting two inner battles: one moral and one political. In the beginning of his skyrocketing American dream career, Changez is temporarily blinded to one of his most ingrained core moral values: compassion. He comes from a family and a culture where people, no matter how poor, routinely celebrate their greatest joys by giving generously to the poor. When Changez comes home to Pakistan for a brief visit with his family, his mother dances ecstatically twirling a 100-rupee note over her head. What a wonderful image! Now, ask yourself how we in the West celebrate our greatest achievements and joys, and let this, and the other similar nuggets of open, cross-cultural insights peppered throughout this work, ignite your thinking about contemporary world issues!

In the beginning, Changez feels stirrings of compassion for the “soon-to-be-redundant workers” (p. 99) that will, no doubt, fall victim to his brilliantly accurate valuation analyses. Sensing this, Jim, Changez’ corporate mentor at Underwood Samson, coaches him often to “focus on the fundamentals”—the bottom line, the numbers, don’t let emotion or compassion get in the way. However, by the time the book draws to a close—when Changez is in Valparaiso, Chile helping valuate a troubled book publishing firm that spends too much of its assets publishing worthy academic, literary, and poetic books that eventually end up losing money for the firm—here Changez becomes the reluctant fundamentalist of the book’s title. He can no longer focus only on the bottom line. He can no longer ignore the deep core of compassion that is his personal moral compass.

So, does he also become a fundamentalist terrorist? The author leaves that up to you to decide. The ending is deftly and provokingly ambiguous. But no matter which ending you choose to imagine—and you will vacillate—the overall cross-cultural thematic points have already been made, and that is what is important and what endures long after you’ve finished the book.

There is also the inner political battle that Changez undergoes during the course of the novel. He begins his job at Underwood Samson a few months before 9/11. How he reacts to that news, and how America changes in the wake of that news—both form crucial themes that resonate throughout. In many ways the book is about the dangers of not embracing change. The author and the main character find much fault with America’s fundamental backwards-looking reaction after 9/11. Instead of trying to come to terms with how America must fundamentally change in the new post-9/11 world order, Changez sees Americans retreating back to an old-fashioned nostalgia for America, the righteous superpower, the imperialistic dominator of the globe. To Changez, America’s self-righteous nostalgia is a terminal illness. To mirror this theme, there is lovely parallel story of Changez’ love for the mentally fragile Erica. She fails precisely because she cannot free herself from her nostalgia for her dead former lover. She cannot move forward with her life, despite the fact that the reader can see very clearly that Changez and Erica have the makings of a truly enduring love.

So if America is failing to change, and Erica fails to change, what happens to Changez? He changes (change-ez)! [Is this, too, along with the word “fundamentalist,” perhaps another linguistic thematic pun?] We the reader are left to figure out if the main character’s change is for the better, or not. Thus the ambiguous ending leaves us wondering.

This novel is so clever! It really makes you think. It entertains with suspense as well as giving you an achingly beautiful love story—and underlying all is much to be learned about the current state of the world.

I recommend this book highly, as I also do one of the other top contenders for the 2007 Booker Prize, namely Ian McEwen’s On Chesil Beach. [I’ve also reviewed this book here on LibraryThing.] Personally, I hope Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” will win. I believe it clearly deserves it.
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LibraryThing member labfs39
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a fascinating piece of creative writing. Structured as a monologue, it begins as a bearded Pakistani approaches an American seated at a cafe table in Lahore. He introduces himself as Changez, a significant name for a man whose changing identity and allegiances are the philosophical underpinnings of the novel.

Changez spends the evening dining with the American and telling him his life story: the decline of his Pakistani family's wealth and status, his decision to leave and seek an education in the US, and the Americanization he undergoes in college and as a rising star at a prestigious valuation firm. Changez seems to have achieved the American dream of success, wealth, and the love of a beautiful and well-connected woman. But success comes at the price of internalizing the mantra of his firm, to stick to fundamentals, and by assigning value to things without emotional attachment. This becomes impossible for Changez after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His emotional world is now the focus of his energies, and as he begins to value things in his life differently, his outer world changes as well.

Intermittently throughout Changez's recital, the author brings us back to the present where Changez is dining with the unknown American. Clues divulged during the course of the dinner, such as that the American is packing a gun in an underarm holster, build tension. who is the American? Why is Changez telling him his story? And what will happen when Changez's story is told and dinner is over. Like Scheherazade, we wonder how the tale will be received and answered.

I found The Reluctant Fundamentalist to be a fast and well-written book, and one whose ambiguities in interpretation lends itself will to discussion, such as in a book club, and to further thought. As an American, I was particularly struck by how 9/11 was perceived by a character who appeared to be completely assimilated. At dinner with the owner of a company that Changez is valuing for a potential takeover, the owner says:

"Have you heard of the janissaries?" "No, " I said. "They were Christian boys," he explained, "captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in the Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to.

He tipped the ash of his cigarette onto a plate. "How old were you when you went to America?" he asked. "I went for college, " I said. "I was eighteen." "Ah, much older," he said. "The janissaries were always taken in childhood. It would have been far more difficult to devote themselves to their adopted empire, you see, if they had memories they could not forget." He smiled and speculated no further on the subject.

The comparison of America to the avaricious Ottoman Empire was one that caused pause. To what extent are policies to bring the world's best and brightest here to study and work a tactic to spread our belief system through assimilation and indoctrination? Hamid poses many interesting questions in his novel, and I am still pondering answers.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
Late one evening in Lahore, Changez, a bearded Pakistani man, spots a mysterious American stranger. He guides the man to a streetside cafe and gradually spins out the story of his rise to the top of the American dream and his sudden disillusionment in the wake of September 11th. The story appears to belong to Changez, the narrator, but as the novel unfolds, we discover that the identity of the stranger is equally important. Trying to unravel the many small clues is one of the pleasures of reading.

Judging from the reviews, this is not a book for everyone, but I found it both beautiful and meaningful. If good characterization is one of your literary turn-ons, chances are that you will enjoy this book too. Changez reveals himself fully as he tells his life story, but even before he begins to tell the tale, we can guess what kind of person he is just from his word choice. The book is fueled by two parallel psychological dramas: Changez's gradual shift from grateful immigrant to angry Pakistani and why he's chosen to share his story with this particular stranger. The point of view never shifts from Changez; in fact, although he sometimes reacts to things the American says or does, he never relates the dialog directly. The book consists exclusively of his spoken words -- there is no exposition, no description, no peek at his thoughts, just the exact words he speaks to the American. I found this approach intriguing and I loved the way each chapter shifted between Changez's present-day interactions with the stranger and the story of his former life in America. Wanting to know how each of the plot lines would turn out propelled me through the book quickly. In the end, it delivered just the kind of ending I like best: enough resolution to leave me satisfied, but enough loose ends to leave room for my own imagination.

Recommended: I can't guarantee that everyone will like this novel, but I do imagine most will find it thought-provoking. With just 180 quick-reading pages, setting aside time for this novel wouldn't be too large a sacrifice.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Changez is a Pakistani man, educated at Princeton, and brilliant enough to be chosen as one of the few to work at the prestigious New York firm of Underwood Samson. But, all changes after the attacks of 911. Changez tells his story to an unnamed American while they dine in a Pakistani marketplace several years after that fateful day. The reader is introduced to several intriguing characters, not the least of whom is the damaged Erica - Changez' love interest - whose mental stability is shaken by the terrorist attack on America and who slips into a more gentle world of her own imagination.

It is not Changez's story per se which drives the narrative of this compelling novella, but the tone of his voice. Hamid has created a tale which is disturbing and thoughtful, one which questions our national loyalties and examines the distrust which has grown between the Middle East and the United States.

When Changez talks of his attempt to assimilate, the reader is struck by the dishonesty of that attempt:

'I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American. The Filipinos we worked with seemed to look up to my American colleagues, accepting them almost instinctively as members of the officer class of global business-and I wanted my share of that respect as well.' -From The Reluctant Fundamentalist, page 65-

Later, Changez seems to recognize, for the first time, how ineffectual his efforts are:

'Then one of my colleagues asked me a question, and when I turned to answer him, something rather strange took place. I looked at him - at his fair hair and light eyes and, most of all, his oblivious immersion in the minutiae of our work - and thought, you are so foreign.' -From The Reluctant Fundamentalist, page 67-

Hamid's prose is exacting and filled with a subtle and disturbing tension. Through Changez's point of view, he reconstructs the anxiety and patriotism following the 911 attacks and provides a view of the United States which is less than flattering - an empire, of sorts, where financial and political concerns outweigh the personal. Changez's place of employment becomes symbolic of a greater force - that which forgets the past and focuses only on a future of wealth and personal gratification.

But, the reader should not be fooled by what appears to be initially an anti-American view of the tensions between the United States and the Middle East (specifically Pakistan). Hamid's message is broader - questioning the essential mistrust on both sides; and providing us with a glimpse of the misunderstandings between governments, as well as people of different cultures.

Mohsin Hamid has constructed a novella which is unsettling in this uncertain time of terrorist threats and the gloom of war in Iraq. It is not a book which is easy to toss aside...but, rather is one whose message should be considered deeply.

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LibraryThing member klarusu
'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is a cleverly constructed novel, written as one part of a dialogue between two men in a Pakistan marketplace. This intimate and innovative style quickly draws the reader into a dual storyline: the history of the narrator's life, discussed as a past narrative and the story unfolding in the narrator's present, which the reader learns about through commentary and innuendo from a single perspective. There is a constant question as to the identity of the narrator and the other participant in the conversation. It is an effective stylistic device. The reader becomes an integral part of the fiction as the narrator addresses a nameless, faceless Western individual. It places the reader themselves in that position, a clever narrative device to bring the story to life in the mind of the reader.

Hamid is a master of characterisation in an unconventional format. The reader becomes more and more curious regarding the audience of the personal history being recounted, as small tidbits of information are dropped into the conversation. It is interesting how Hamid builds a degree of character for the unseen individual, fascinating how your opinion of character can be formed purely through a third party's reactions to that person. On a wider scale, it raises the question of how far our perceptions of nations or nationalities unfamiliar to us are affected by the reaction of others towards them.

The dual thread of the narrative allows Hamid to give an interesting, intelligent portrayal of post 9/11 America. There is an wonderful analysis, at one point, of the traditional empire that America resembles within its own borders. He also paints a portrait of the development of fundamentalism more complex than any we are usually given - a combination of internal and external triggers, personal and political reasons, as much an echo of a man's dissatisfaction with himself and his own perspective on his heritage as a reaction to the political climate of the day. It makes the creation of a fundamentalist mindset seem frighteningly plausible, even possibly understandable. It is born of reasoned argument that it is impossible not to indentify with at some level. It serves as an antidote to the common portrayal of the fundamentalist mindset being born of low intellect and high susceptibility to influence or of purely religious fanaticism.

It is a remarkably well-realised novel, with mounting suspense that brings the reader towards the conclusion with ever-increasing eagerness to discover who the individuals really are and what that narrator's true story is. The image of suicide, always hanging in the background, symbolises perhaps a nation's unacknowledged fears. As the two men converse, with a constantly changing backdrop of the local marketplace, it seems more than purely an atmospheric description of their surroundings. It is more analogous to the constantly changing world around us. The image of the changing character of the market as it empties mirroring the image of our solitude as our society lives more and more empty of faith.

This was a real 'impossible to put down' book, an incredibly fast read but one that leaves you thinking and broadens your view of a contemporary issue, taking it in interesting directions. Well worth the investment of time and money.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
The book is a first person narrative by Changez, a 25 year old Pakistani man who was educated at Princeton, graduated at the top of his class, and is hired by a prestigious Manhattan firm upon graduation. He delivers this autobiographical information to an American stranger in a cafe' in Lahore. The stranger is minimally identified as an American male, in a business suit, who uses an electronic communication device and is possibly armed.

According to Changez, he lives the American dream post college graduation, and falls in love with a tragic, mentally ill, blonde classmate named Erica. Her name is significant in that it is the end of the word "America". The blonde is important because skin tone is referred to several times in the narrative.

At work, Changez is mentored by Jim, who identifies with Changez's feelings of being an outsider and coaches him accordingly. There are veiled references that suggest Jim is gay, hence the references to his understanding of what it is to be successful as an outsider in American culture.

Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, the relationship between Changez and Erica sours. Changez becomes distracted at work. Then following a trip home to Pakistan and an overseas assignment to Chile. he decides that he is living a lie and rebels against his supervisor in Chile. The result is job loss, and ultimately a return to Pakistan. He reveals that he is a lecturer at the University and has guided students in protests and opposition against the U.S., and suggests that may be the tip of the iceberg.

The narrative at with the stranger is subtly threatening under a veneeer of graciousness...and yet at times Changez seems to feel threatened as well. The ending is left to the imagination of the reader. Perhaps the ending you imagine reveals your interpretation of the story and your assessment of the reliability of the narrator.

Some reviews have commented that the book provides a view of Americans as other see us. Perhaps there's a grain of truth to that. I think the more important point is how the book reveals the raw and sometimes hyper-emotional reactions of young males as they emerge from insular adolescence and become aware of the largeness of the world. Others have commented on the dark humor in this book which I did not find. If one wants dark humor, read The White Tiger, which ironically takes place in India.
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LibraryThing member annbury
o an extraordinary degree, this beautifully written short novel brought me into the mind and heart of someone I would not have expected to be interested in, let alone empathize with. The central character, of course, is young Pakistani who's had a superb American education, and has landed a superb American job. Everything (including a superb American girlfriend) seems to be going splendidly, until 9/11. That shatters his sense of identity, from the inside first -- he smiles when he hears the news, shocking himself profoundly, and begins to wonder who he really is. The continued unravelling (or crisis of faith, if secular careerism can be deemed a faith) is reinforced by changing American attitudes towards Muslims and the Muslim world. Eventually -- well, if you haven't read a plot summary yet, read the book to find out what happens.

Read the book anyway, even if you know what happens. The way in which the book is narrated, a long monologue delivered by the Pakistani to a mysterious American in an unsettling Lahore cafe, brought me into an Arabian Nights world of storytelling, judicious pauses, and evocative language. The combination of this form with the very modern subject matter crystallizes the division between the narrator's Pakistani past and his one-time American future, a future now foregone. The language is crisp and exact, and the author's ability to pin-point (pin prick?) much about the U.S. response to 9/11 is uncanny, and uncomfortable. Some of his political comparisons -- for example, the way the civilians killed on 9/11 became victims never to be forgotten, while the civilians killed by American drones became collateral damage -- are now burned into my perceptions of my country's foreign policy. Why do they hate us? Because we push them around.

If this book were non-fiction, there would be things in it that I would criticize, including a tendency to blame everything on the U.S. (Why do we push them around? Because, sometimes, they are harming our interests, and other times they are threatening our "friends". ) But it isn't non-fiction, it's a novel, and a novel is allowed to present one view of the world without making allowances for conflicting points of view. Moreover, the central character's sympathy with them rather than us isn't really all that inexplicable. Human beings are tribal, Americans as well as Pakistanis. Years ago, when IRA bombings were terrorizing London, an Irish-American banker friend of mine was in London on business. When he heard that another bomb had gone off, with injuries and possibly deaths, he didn't smile. He did, however, think "One for our side". When he told me about this, I was amazed, as I think was he when it happened. Our pre-civilized emotions rear their ugly heads, even in the financial services industry.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an unsettling story of a young Pakistani man, Changez, whose life was impacted by 09/11 and the unstable relationship with his love interest, Erica. Changez was educated at Princeton and recruited by an elite firm upon graduation. He moved to New York City where he could blend in and focus on his work, his friendships and Erica. Changez seemed to tolerate American society well enough until the attacks on 09/11 when he underwent constant scrutiny because he was Muslim. He no longer felt like he could “fit in,” and when the U.S. didn’t support Pakistan against rising escalations with India, his toleration for his host country completely dissipated.

Many reviewers contend that this is a novel about anti-American views after 09/11 and how an educated young man, scorned by the behavior of Americans, become bitter and possibly evolved into a terrorist. While I agree with this contention, I would also argue that Changez was more deeply affected by the mental decline of Erica and his inability to break through her mental illness. Erica was profoundly depressed by the death of her first boyfriend several years ago. She recovered enough to get through Princeton and write her first novel, but the presence of a new lover rocked her gentle stability and reverted Erica to her depressive state. Changez could not compete against the dead lover who still held Erica’s heart, despite all of his best efforts. He eventually conceded to this fact, and in the end, lost Erica forever. Heart-broken and disillusioned about the “American way of life,” Changez became depressed. His broken heart is what pushed Changez “over the edge” – to the point that he could no longer live in America anymore.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a hard story to read because it holds a mirror up to American society – and the mirror does not reflect back a good image. As an American, I agree with Changez’s assessment of my country’s flaws, but in my mind, I continue to counter these points with positive ones. Like anything, we’re good and bad – and far from perfect. Despite my discomfort, I enjoyed this short, suspenseful novel immensely, and I would recommend to any reader who wants more enlightenment on American and Middle Eastern affairs as well as a beautiful account of Pakistan.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This little novel started very strong and overall was pretty intriguing, but it kind of fizzled at the end and got almost cliche or too silly to be taken seriously (which is too bad because it was very believable up until that point). Still, I thought it was good enough to recommend and the way Hamid built the tension was well done. The writing is also pretty good and it's a very fast read. The story is simply a one-sided narrative/conversation of a man from Pakistan (Changez) telling a bit about his life (or not - the reader is never really sure what is truth or what is fiction) and his beliefs as to America(ns) both before and after 9/11. Although from Pakistan, he had come to the States to study and find work, so he tells of that history. Changez sits down at the American's table in a cafe/restaurant and that is basically the entire novella, that tense conversation. We get little snippets of the American's thoughts and words through Changez's reaction, but he never really speaks/writes. The ending is one of those I call "choose your own ending" as it can be interpreted various ways. Anyway, recommended for something a bit off the beaten path and unique. As many readers have noted, this would make a good "book club" discussion because there are many topics to discuss so much of the conversation is up for different interpretations.… (more)
LibraryThing member kambrogi
Mohsid Hamid does a good job of telling an exciting tale through a peculiar narrative structure. He imagines a Pakistani striking up a conversation with an American in a teashop in Lahore, Pakistan. We only read the words of the Pakistani as he tells a compelling and moving tale of a young man educated in the US and eventually turned against his host country, its people and the lifestyle it represents. It is a courageous and honest work that creates a window through which a reader can better understand the call of Anti-Americanism, however the book’s strength is minimized somewhat by its narrow stereotyping of Americans, unfortunate when the main character is so well-rounded. The confusing ending is also a bit of a disappointment. Nevertheless, it’s a quick, entertaining and thought-provoking read.… (more)
LibraryThing member LyzzyBee
A monologue narrated by Changez to a mysterious American in a Lahore cafe, this is an intriguing book that is difficult to put down. Changez takes his audience through his life from arrival in America for college aged 18, his relationships to Pakistan and America, his relationship with the American, Erica (see what they did there?) and his gradual disenchantment with his Westernised life. The part about his reaction to 9/11 is, I think, supposed to be shocking, and is indeed not presented in isolation, given a strong and complex context. I wasn't shocked, but then again I think I'd maybe be typical of the people that would pick up this book in the first place.

I hope I'm wrong there, as this book does a lot to "normalise" and contextualise the kind of person Changez appears to be, an immigrant trying to settle in a new country, sometimes becoming more American than the Americans, sometimes hopelessly out of his depth and out of place.

The atmosphere of the cafe, probably because I've sat in similar in Tunisia, was beautifully done, and the subtle build-up of menace as we realise that, let alone Changez, we really don't know who this American is, was really well done too.

A compulsive, interesting read.
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LibraryThing member citygirl
Deceptively slim book in which a young Pakistani tells the story of his education at Princeton, infatuation with an American girl and his budding career as an elite financial consultant, and how it all unraveled in the wake of 9/11. I imagine this book is a bit controversial. It's controversial in my own head, causing internal arguments. It's a book about otherness, and American blase, and the Middle Eastern response to that blase (imagine an accent mark over the e, don't know how to make them). This book challenges what I thought were my liberal sensibilities, but as the "American way of life" no matter how misguided, came under criticism by this narrator, my hackles came up. And he completely lost me with his initial, natural response to hearing about the towers falling. After that, I couldn't empathize with him anymore. Interesting book, easy to read, deceptively so.… (more)
LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
I’m often intrigued by foreigners in the United States in the same way that they must be intrigued by Americans visiting their own countries of origin. In this engaging book by Mohsin Hamid, we find this situation examined as both Pakistanis and Americans interact in their own countries of origin.

Changez is a young man from Lahore, Pakistan, who studies at Princeton University and later lands a job at a prestigious firm which determines the value of businesses. He recounts the story of his young adulthood to an American businessman while seated at a table in an outdoor café in Lahore. As the story proceeds, we encounter the growing unease which works its way into Changez’s life. It begins with his tenuous relationship with the beautiful, but deeply sad, young woman Erika and later emerges as others perceive him in a different light following the 9-11 attack of the World Trade Center. He questions his own values, those of America, and slowly works out a personal solution to his conflicting emotions.

I found this story to be very beautiful. It’s told in a quiet, gentle voice and one which tries to keep the reader from getting nervous by repeated explanations. Somehow, in the same way that people tend to be a bit suspicious of others unlike themselves, there is always the desire on the part of the reader not to trust the narrator. Nevertheless, this is an enlightening glimpse into what foreign nationals feel about America, even with the privilege that an American education and employment bestows upon them. This is an engaging novel that very much makes me want to reach for more of Mohsin Hamid’s writing.
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LibraryThing member Jamily5
I did see Britz as well and found it quite ... ... disturbing, but well done.
I also listened to Hamid's interview on the BBC world book club which prompted a second read.
I won't summarize the book again.
My problems with the book were:
I became a bit weary of the man's constant fear of Pakistani waiters and such.
As me, being the one that Changes is talking to, there were many other questions that I would have asked and my responses would have been quite different.
I also realized (though Changes probably didn't which is unfortunate) that Changes got something that most Americans didn't get. As much as the guest had his own preconceived notions of Pakistan, Changes only glimpsed a small sliver of america. It was, also obviously difficult for him to separate political from the human aspects.
I found myself wondering if there would be an alternate book: same story, just different reader.
I know that it is hard to give so much information, when it is suppose to be a monolog. A monolog by its very nature means that some things will be left out.
also, at first, Changes' polite language was a bit unsettling.
And, the fact that he says: "I am a lover of America," and sought this man out to tell his story, seems maybe to be a bit of a introspectrive time for him.

I did like the descriptions of Lahore and Pakistan.
I understand that many people will walk the same journey as Changes.
Yes, will there be a "changes2," where he talks about being in Pakistan and dealing with the shifting lifestyles that abound in Pakistan. I have not read enough books about immigration and possible assemilation to rate it against such literary works. But, I will say that Mohsin Hamed deals with his character's feelings in his short novel much better than Monica Ali did in her "Brick Lane."

I saw an interview with Hamid and another pakistani author: Mudahdin (sorry probably spelled it wrong). and they talked about not really belonging to neither culture/country. I had wished that the book was longer and Changes' thoughts feelings about moving back to Pakistan. I enjoyed the book and the love story between him and Erica. I want to go to Pakistan and taste their tea! I understand the feelings of exclusion and reassessing one's values. I would recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member bsanner
A challenging and, at times, unsettling short novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist follows a Pakistani national from his successes studying and working in America to his eventual rejection of American life, ideology, and wealth. Stretched across several settings, the theme of the book remains constant: the deep tension in the narrator’s life between his American success (in love, study, and work) and his Pakistani sensibility (in culture, family, and honor). The unique narration and gripping story combine to provide an overall good read. B… (more)
LibraryThing member akeela
The book is a monologue of sorts. The setting is a café in Lahore where the protagonist, Changez, sees a visibly uneasy American stranger and starts chatting with him, in an effort to put him at ease. They are seated and place their orders as Changez tells the man about his life as an immigrant in the States, living the American dream.

He is an intelligent 25-year-old who graduated top of his class at Princeton U, then got snatched up by a prestigious NY firm where he achieved spectacular professional success. To crown it all, he found love with the classy Erica, who proceeded to introduce him to the elite circles of Manhattan society. In the midst of this headiness, September 11 occurs and Changez is seized by a strong sense of allegiance to Pakistan.

This was a quick, compelling read. I thoroughly enjoyed the elegant, thought-provoking prose.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
There are certain kinds of books that I love:
1. Books that entertain
2. Books that use the language in an interesting way
3. Books that teach me something I didn't know
4. Books that re-educate me, that challenge my assumptions
This book is a combination of all four, but most importantly covers the fourth area; I had not thought terribly much about the human impact of the war on terror on an everyday Pakistani family, but this book challenged me and made me think again about my preconceptions.
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LibraryThing member shawjonathan
I read most of this in sight of Japan's Inland Sea -- calm, misty, a living explanation for the aesthetics of zen gardens. Perhaps that affected the way I heard the narrator's voice: unruffled, fatalistic, courteous. The book is a monologue: bearded Pakistani man engages an American in conversation in a marketplace in Lahore. As night falls, he persuades the other man to eat with him as he tells him the story of his life, or rather of his relationship with America. The book probably grows from Mohsin Hamid's years at Princeton. Its rage at the terrible realities of Pakistani politics is delivered with a mellifluous inevitability that made me think of a Handel concerto. The actual relationship between the narrator and his guest, as hinted at throughout and revealed in the final pages, is neither surprising nor plausible, but that hardly seems to matter.… (more)
LibraryThing member Opinionated
Hmm. I loved the narrator's monologue but I wasn't convinced the narrator's interlocuter would want to sit around listening to it. If I was the American, I don't think I would have, especially if his purposes were as shady as is implied. I also wasn't particularly convinced by the narrator's political awakening - and really his change of life is all about politics and justice and nothing to do with religion, so the title is misleading. Nothing in Changez's worldview seems to be about Islam as a religion, simply about Islam as an identity. But then again, as he admits himself, his story may not be true.

However, I very much enjoyed the structure, the narrators voice, the ambiguity of the ending , the very vivid invocation of Lahore, and the latent hint of menace in almost every paragraph. I read it in 2 sittings and was sorry to reach the end
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
The narrator, a young, nameless Pakistani man, sits down to dinner with a visiting American stranger. During the meal, the young man tells his story: how he came to the United States as a university student, obtained a job with a selective financial services firm, and fell in love with a beautiful and troubled American woman. And how, after September 11, 2001, he became increasingly disillusioned and angry with American government and society, and returned home to Pakistan. This personal narrative is periodically interrupted by observations on the immediate surroundings: beautiful young women in the cafe, the burly waiter, the food, and the American visitor's nervous behavior.

The story itself is interesting in its own right, but early on I was struck by a more basic question: why are these two men having dinner together in the first place? Why is the American so nervous? The tension and suspense continued to mount as the narrative progressed and it appeared a kind of "cat and mouse game" was underway. But which man was the predator, and which one the prey? These questions are left open to speculation.

However, these plot details are not the real point of this novel. The Reluctant Fundamentalist provides a much more powerful lesson to Americans in its brutal portrayal of how our country is viewed in the Middle East, and how citizens of these nations can come to espouse these views and, ultimately, act on their anger.
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LibraryThing member clevinger
This short novel is written entirely as a monologue by the central Pakistani character addressing an American with whom he shares a meal in a restaurant in Lahore. Whilst neatly executed, I don't think it would have sustained a longer narrative so the length (circa 200 pages) is about right.

The premise is an interesting one - how a middle class Pakistani who wins a scholarship to a prestigious American university and upon graduation gets a well paid job with a financial consulting company subsequently becomes disillusioned with his adopted country's belligerence and 'reluctantly' turns against her. I was expecting something harsher, more details of the USA's transgressions (both home and abroad) and a more severe (and equally wrong-headed) slide into fundamentalist ideals from the protagonist. Instead the author presents his character's doomed relationship with the USA largely through the metaphor of his relationship with an American female fellow student. Fair enough, but there are also direct references to the climate of suspicion and hostility to Muslims post 9/11 and the US operations in Afghanistan and these feel insufficiently explored to explain the crisis of conscience that the narrator undergoes.

Just as in his previous novel Moth Smoke, the author is at pains to clarify his country's relationship to religion. "In truth, many Pakistanis drink. Alcohol's illegality in our country has roughly the same effect as marijuana's in yours...What? Is it not a sin? Yes, it certainly is - and so, for that matter, is coveting thy neighbour's wife. I see you smile, we understand one another then." [p.61]. Thus the 'fundamentalist' that the protagonist becomes is really nothing more than a university lecturer and educated critic of US foreign policy, of whom there are many in the world and who are by no means exclusively Muslim.

The narrative device achieves an element of suspense as we try to figure out exactly who the American sharing the meal in Lahore is and what his intentions are. There are several indications as to the answer but even by the end the final outcome is left open, I think I would have preferred a neater ending.

Overall this is an easy and nicely structured read, but if this was an attempt to explain to an American readership what drives people in the opposite direction then it feels a little like a missed opportunity.
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LibraryThing member karieh
I’ve held off on my review of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” for a couple of days…waiting, I suppose, for something to come to me. This book has been so glowingly reviewed, was short-listed for the Booker Prize…and yet? I just…I just didn’t get it.

Let me clarify. I get the book, I feel like I understand what happened and what the author was trying to convey…but I guess I just don’t get what all the fuss was about. (I feel stupid even writing that, but it’s true.)

I like the narrative style, I like the voice of Changez, I like the way the author builds tension throughout the book with veiled references to what brought Changez and his companion together, and I even like the vague ending. It was a pleasant read – and I agreed with many of the post 9/11 observations on America and Americans. But…but…

I read books (now) with a notebook and a pad of Post-Its so that I can make notes and mark passages that I don’t want to forget. At the end of this book? I hadn’t made one note and there was not one sticky note in my copy of this short novel.

Seriously – I can’t tell you how reluctant (sorry, but that’s how I feel) I am to write these words. I am sure that I am missing THE THING about this book that everyone else got. I don’t feel like I was being lazy while reading it…

Anyway – I guess that’s all I can say. I would probably pick up another book by Hamid and I certainly congratulate him on his success but I can’t say that “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” will be at the top of any of my lists. Sorry.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
I have picked up this book so many times without buying it because I considered it to be just another post-9/11 book and I have not been interested in reading any books in that particular genre. It's a personal thing, needing no public explanation really, but as I'm trying to get through most of the books on the Booker Prize longlist this month, I felt I had to give it a read. So fittingly, I was wide awake last night, unable to sleep, & started this book just shortly after midnight of September 11.

I'm not going to go into the plot here because it's widely spread around in terms of reviews and synopses all over the internet. I will say that I was very decently surprised, for two reasons. First, I was surprised at the book's ability to hold me until I'd finished it about 3 am. I couldn't stop reading it -- thinking about it now, I found myself as captive an audience as the unknown person to whom Changez is relating his story at the cafe in Lahore. Second, after I'd finished it, I was just laying there thinking about it, and realized in a momentary flash of insight that this tale was highly allegorical, although on the surface, you'd think it was just a story. My surprise came this morning, flipping through some of the above-mentioned reviews, when a few reviewers had confirmed my thoughts that the character of Erica was most carefully formed as the allegorical stand in for America (which was one of the things that hit me at 3 am); I kept wondering why this relationship was such a big deal until after mulling it over I came to this conclusion. So, it seems to me that if you want to get more out of this book, you should read it with that in mind, because it totally changes the character of the entire book. I was, I must admit, a bit uneasy when at 3 am I thought of this, because then the book really got under my skin and I was more awake than when I'd started it.

Another thing -- I had just finished The Gift of Rain (also on the Booker longlist), and among the main ideas of that book, the notion of finding your own identity when faced with a most unsettling duality highly resonated with parts of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It was even more unsettling for me once I connected the two (set far apart in time and in space) in my own head. But it seems to me that the beauty of literature is not in the story telling, but in what is left after the story is gone. The Reluctant Fundamentalist will stay with me a long time after the Booker Prize is given and this either wins or doesn't. I guarantee that most people will feel the same after having read it.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants quality writing and isn't afraid to tackle an uncomfortable subject. If you want a piece of writing that will leave something behind in your psyche, then definitely pick this one up. I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member juliette07
Set in Pakistan, this book is a conversation over dinner time. Through the story the reader is let into the viewpoints each diner represents. In fact there were times when I thought I was actually sitting at the table. Interestingly, this is a one sided conversation yet we glean so much. We learn of the love affair of a hugely successful Princeton graduate and as we do so we realise it is doomed from the outset. Does success in the materialistic sense of the word lead to happiness? This is just one of the questions with which the reader is presented, both at a personal level and on the world stage.

The sense of drama unfolds as we hear of the Pakistani’s cosmopolitan nature as he dons his starched white kurta, travels the subway and feels completely comfortable in his attire. Somehow, with our knowledge of times ahead this seems rather like a portent of things to come. This is a truly riveting story of a high achieving young Pakistani man who derives all the ‘privileges’ of a Princeton scholarship yet is unable to remain in his adopted culture following the events of 9/11. This story juxtaposes two cultures and follows the moral battle of Changez the Pakistani as he battles with his upbringing in which compassion and generosity are highly prized. At the end I was left with as many questions as answers as there are so many levels in this story. I would highly recommend this clever, entertaining yet serious and certainly thought provoking novel.
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