12 May 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

At a café in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man corners an American with a beseeching question, “Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance?”; and so begins Mohsin Hamid’s tale of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Then, in the next 180-odd pages, we live through the Pakistani’s life as he pours out his heart, chapter by chapter, to the unknown American.

We learn that the Pakistani’s name is Changez; that, not too long ago, he was in America, studying in Princeton and then working in one of the most reputed management consulting firms there; that, he was in love with a beautiful white American woman; that, due to a series of events not in his control, and in spite of the loving support of his family and friends, his life comes crashing down to a bitter end… bringing him back to Lahore and to this meeting with an American stranger.

Does this sound real? You bet it does! And Mohsin Hamid weaves the tale of The Reluctant Fundamentalist admirably. The tale of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a confession, written in first person in such polite, beseeching and convincing language that I can understand why the unknown American couldn’t walk out of this conversation with Changez. I certainly hung on to every word of his until I finished reading the book. I’ve seldom read a book that is so engrossing.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is really a tale of an immigrant’s loss of love, hope and innocence. But, what’s also interesting about The Reluctant Fundamentalist is that author Hamid presents a unique perspective of a normal Pakistani’s response to the world’s response to global terrorism and how this ‘whole enchilada’ of global terrorism and retribution, and the fear that it envelopes us with, changes the lives of even those who are non-participants… forever.