“Post 9/11, most novels have only scratched the surface. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a glorious exception to this rule.” – The Outlook This is Mohsin Hamid’s second novel after Moth Smoke. The fact that it was short, listed for the Man Booker Prize, the Decibel Award and published in 20 languages says a lot in itself. Compared to the previous venture, this one is simpler, yet manages to be discreet at the same time. The complex characters are replaced by people leading simple life. But the issue beneath has been beautifully addressed by Hamid which is central to the story and is contemporary to our times.
The story is in the form of a monologue between the narrator, who is known by the name Changez and an American stranger whom he meets at a Lahore café. Changez shares his entire story of life with this anonymous man, whose no information has been revealed in the book. We can only hear the sound of Changez’s voice from the first line of the book. The narrative allows us to independently employ our imagination while residing within Hamid’s plot and its character. Hamid’s creation is an art in itself. Yet, sometimes the voice becomes too forceful and the climax too sharp. The fact that the American doesn’t contribute to the conversation can have several interpretations and maybe that is what Hamid intended to achieve.
Changez is portrayed as a typical Asian student who earns a scholarship to Princeton University and passes out with top grades. He is directly recruited by the consultant firm, Underwood Samson. America’s easy life, its capitalist beliefs enthralls Changez and he feels more at home in the US than in Pakistan, his native place. His perspective towards life in US changes with the beginning of his enigmatic love life with Erica. Erica has been portrayed as a liberal, modern American girl but struggling with her own issues, mainly having to deal with her boyfriend, Chris’s death, due to cancer. Though she has still not recovered from the trauma caused due to Chris’s death, she finds herself drawn to Changez’s old world charms, his traditional outlook, his influences from the East. This is the background on which 9/11 rotates. When the Twin Towers fall, Changez finds that his geo-political conscience has been stirred. He begins to question things that he earlier accepted as the norm. His growing impatience and restlessness scares him too. He doesn’t feel comfortable as revenge is meted out to Afghanistan, a country Changez feels has “a kinship to mine.” Moreover, his love life begins to crumble as Erica tries speculating her inner self. She feels she can never love Changez as an individual; rather she will always visualize the reflection of Chris within him.
Hamid sets out to address many relevant issues of traditionalism, nationalism, globalization, Islam, East-West relations in a post-9/11 world. Sometimes the views become a little stereotyped and instead of maintaining a balance between east and west, the narrative starts being biased towards East. Towards the end, it picks up again as two people’s approach. Changez in a parking lot starts calling himself in different names, and feels someone is following him. It is here that Changez realises his own myopia and that, his has been a dialogue of the deaf.
The book like any good book, doesn’t offer any solution nor does it justify or attempt to conclude. It leaves the readers with a ready made platform, to judge themselves, urges them to ponder. And that is where Hamid’s greatest achievement lies.