Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

Through the conversation of a Pakistani man and an American at a marketplace in Lahore, we learn about the recent life-changing events of a young man who leaves his home of Pakistan in order to make use of the education and opportunities in the United States. He attends Princeton and is hand-selected to work for an important firm in New York City whose sole purpose is to evaluate the financial worth of companies about to be sold, purchased, overtaken, etc. In no short order, this young man shoots to the top of his "class" within the firm, becomes someone with a lot of potential within his line of work. Then the events of 9/11 occur and change everything. Or is it the doomed relationship with an upper-class girl he meets in school that changes everything? Or is it somehow the melding of all of these things together that ultimately sheds light over a world in which our main character simply doesn't belong.

Most arresting and memorable are the changes of emotion and core beliefs that occur within our young man. His own discovery of animosity towards America, while still grateful for the opportunities he was given feels true. It is a young man who begins with hope of a prosperous future for himself in America and his family back in Pakistan, but is disillusioned by a combination of American politics and capitalism. Who's to say which had the most negative effect? Perhaps it is mostly about discovery within himself of someone who finds value in the unsayable, empathy & compassion for the least among us and realizes he cannot turn a blind eye to the harder truths of the world.

Hamid's novel is brief, simple but not without a forward-moving intensity that keeps you page-turning until you have no choice but to put the book down. And in the time between setting it aside and picking it up again, you think of it. You ponder Changez, the world he lives in now in Lahore, the world he left in New York.

The author, Mohsin Hamid, is Pakistani. He did attend Princeton and is only a few years older than his character here. Keep in mind also that Hamid began this novel in the summer of 2000, nearly a hear and a half before the events of 9/11. The voice feels just that personal, that authentic and that impassioned.

The writing is bold, precise and feels well-calculated. The sentences and images well-crafted without verging into the saccharinely poetic. The story itself builds to a climax without conclusion. Ultimately, seeing through the eyes of our protagonist and accompanying him on this journey, however brief, left me feeling quite humble.

A highly recommended read.

Visit the author's website.

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