The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Powerful Essays
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a taut and engaging piece of fiction, exploring the growing chasm between the East and the West. Mohsin Hamid has used a rather unique narrative mode- the dramatic monologue –and used it skillfully to weave an account of a young Pakistani’s class aspirations and inner struggle in corporate America. Throughout the novel, Hamid maintains a tense atmosphere, an atmosphere of imminent danger and radical violence. What results from the two devices is an allegorical reconstruction of post-9/11 tensions, and an inflective young man’s infatuation and disenchantment with America.

Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani writer and self-confessed “transcontinental mongrel”. Born in 1971 in Lahore, Hamid shifted to the United States at the age of eighteen. He attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School and worked briefly as a management consultant in New York. After living in London for a few tears, he moved back to Pakistan and currently lives in Lahore with his wife and daughter.

Hamid’s fiction deals with varied issues: from infidelity to drug trade in the subcontinent and, in the light of contemporary developments, about Islamic identity in a globalised world. His first novel, Moth Smoke (2000) won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award in 2000. His other novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Decibel Award and the South Bank Award for Literature. This book serves as a testament to his elegant style as he deftly captures the straining relationship between America and Pakistan.

The book is set in an outdoor café in a bustling Lahore market- Old Anarkali- where a young, bearded Pakist...

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... Aside from power, the recurrent leitmotif is the constant comparisons that Changez makes between America and Pakistan. (‘Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, home to as many people as New York...’) Also, he resents the grouping of Islamic identity as one by symbols such as the beard, burqa, etc. Yet, he too homogenizes the American identity to an extent. He frequently describes other Americans as ‘not unlike yourself’ and their actions as ‘just as you are doing now.’

Mohsin Hamid has successfully captured the dominant political discourses of the contemporary world and presented them as mutually exclusive. What makes this book work is the masterful employment of irony and controlled suspense to create a subtle polemic. As one reviewer has put it:-

‘Hamid [has] remained true to a writer’s purpose: To tell a story. And to tell it well.’