According to me, a good book is supposed to be enthralling and deep, yet light, dark, yet with subtle humour, but most of all, it should be expressive enough for the reader to be able to develop a strong connection with the narrator. Mohsin Hamid’s second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, lacks all these primary points.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is about a man, Changez, who is an over-achiever at best, with a degree from Princeton, a job offer from one of the most sought after firms, and the attention of a beautiful girl; in short, he has it all.
Mohsin Hamid shows the descent of Changez through the words of the character himself; the story is told as a first person narration, and starts off in a café in Lahore, where a bearded Changez decides to have a conversation with an American stranger.
With the scars of the 9/11 attacks still fresh, the American is nervous and uncomfortable around this bearded gentleman, thus Changez, after repeated assurances, lunges into his tale.
Changez divulges his most private details to the American, and tells him about how he acquired a job in the highly respected Underwood Samson, and how he proved himself to be better than his peers, thus paving the way for his climb up the corporate, financial and social ladder. He runs into a girl, Erica, and soon starts falling in love with her, but she continuously rejects him due to the scars from a grievous past. Emotional turmoil results when Changez fails to perform properly at the jobs he had undertaken on behalf of his firm, and the turmoil worsens, when the tragedy of September 11 starts after his work and private life.
To make matters worse, a trip back home makes him realise how much he has changed, or rather how “Americanised” he is now; this settles in the form of guilt. Thus begins his descent back home, he reaches what he assumes is his spiritual path, plagued with confusion and without a set role model.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist very scathingly portrays the life of a Pakistani living in America in very trying times, consequently, Mohsin Hamid offers justifications through his work, and seeks an approval for all Muslims.
When the character says, “Allow me to assure you that I do not always speak this openly; indeed I almost never do. But tonight, as I think we both understand, is night of some importance.”, It is clear from this very statement that the character is craving for the acceptance of the American, and goes on to show that the book is nothing more than a miserable justification for not only all Muslim actions, but rather Muslims as a whole in general.
Mohsin Hamid desperately tries to portray Muslims as modern, upbeat, fashionable and open-minded people, but instead delivers a sorry description of westernized people, lost in their confused worlds, and deeply influenced by two very different cultures.
Symbolically, when the American departs, Changez follows, and comments on the presence of other young men around them, this shows that although he has acquired the appearance of a staunch Muslim; in body and mind, he and majority of the people, are still following the American way.
The grim expression of the waiter, however, also shows hints of resentment towards the western world. Save for Changez, all the other characters in this book were stock characters, with minimum movement and expression. All in all, the book was a disappointment, and offered inaccurate descriptions of the plight of Pakistani’s like Changez.