Monday, May 28, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Ah, we are about to arrive at the gates of your hotel. It is here that you and I shall at last part company. Perhaps our waiter wants to say goodbye as well, for he is rapidly closing in. Yes, he is waiving at me to detain you. I know you have found some of my views offensive; I hope you will not resist my attempt to shake you by the hand. But why are you reaching into your jacket, sir? I detect a glint of metal. Given that you and I are now bound by a certain shared intimacy, I trust it is from the holder of your business cards.
And in this way, The Reluctant Fundamentalist comes to an end. This one, Mohsin Hamid's second novel (after Moth Smoke) hits you hard; it catches you unaware, holds you captive and finally takes your breath away. There are times at which you find yourself wondering if the author is going the cliche way, and precisely on that page he comes up with brilliance, reassuring you that you have made a right choice in considering this book for your best-reads-of-the-year.

It's basically a (lost) love story. Not only Changez's love with Erica, but his longing for the country, and later love for his country of birth--- Pakistan. The backdrop is that of September 11 attacks on WTC, and how his life takes unimaginable-to-a-22-year-old turns. Changez is in deeply love with Erica, who is not yet out of the trauma of death of her beloved to cancer. At the same time around, war is looming large at his home country, and a crisis already up on in his mind.

Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Changez works for a top-notch firm that consults its clients in valuing firms for prospective take-over bids. Perhaps, it's not by chance that the motto of his organization circles around Fundamentals. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Erica should be so much interested in knowing more about Changez's country. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Erica should commit suicide just when Changez decides to give up on his job and return home. And perhaps it's not just a coincidence that this whole story be told to an unknown business traveler to Lahore in a restaurant.

I am no literature critic, but the fact that above thoughts should come to my mind is an indication of how well designed the novel is! It's layered. Something I enjoy very much. To every character in the story, there is a purpose; which obviously is not revealed completely to the reader, but needs to be interpreted according to her own imagination (and liking!).

In passing, Mohsin Hamid's monologue style is different, his careful choice of italicized words commendable, and pace, well, lively. Told to an unknown American, this account of a Pakistani class-A student, makes you stop at the end of every one of the twelve chapters and makes you think. Although, in my first reading (which was in two days!) I must have missed a lot of key points, at the end of it I found the reading a memorable experience.

I definitely need to read it again. At a later time. And as Hamid would put it himself, "Ah, now I see that you are really keen on reading this. I like it."

Go for it!


Mihir said...

terrific! seems like I ought to get it and read it this week!

Ajit said...

Yes. Do it this week (or this weekend :p).

I am sure you will like and most probably relate to the book. The italics were intended.

Also, interestingly, after reading Ram Guha's interview somewhere on the net, I went to the book-shop he recommends in it. First gaze around the book-shop and I decided I had to go back there again. There I bought my first hard-bound novel, and what a marvelous novel it turned out to be!