I read Mohsin’ latest novel Exit West (Rated: 5/5) some few weeks back. Like Exit West, The reluctant Fundamentalist made it to the Man Booker shortlist. The novel helped Mohsin Hamid prove his storytelling skills that continue to delight readers everywhere.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist revolves around a Pakistani named Changhez. The novel is written as a dialogue with only person, Changhez, speaking for most of the time. Changhez finds an American in the old market where he sits down and recounts his time spent in the USA. The whole novel is narrated by Changhez with breaks only when the two people ate or drank something.
Changhez’s family has a rich heritage. Their family had significant affluence and influence in the past. However, with the passage of time, both decreased. Saddened by his family’s decline, Changhez seeks to turn the tide through education. He secures admission at Princeton, one of the most prestigious universities of the world, pursuing business studies. Later, he goes on to secure a place at a prestigious firm as a financial analyst. He soon starts to enjoy a lifestyle he never dreamed of.
Apart from work, which consumes most of Changhez’s time, he has little social life except meeting a girl named Erica. Changhez meets Erica on a trip to Greece accompanied by his peers from Princeton. He falls in love & tries to cement his relationship with her. He soon discovers that Erica had a boyfriend,Chris, who died some years ago. Erica never recovers from the loss and her mind continues to wanders off to a world where she and Chris are still together. This creates a very tricky situation for Changhez for he can neither come close to Erica nor can he think of going away. The relationship has a very strong effect on Changhez.
Changhez starts to experience drastic changes in his outlook towards America after the 9/11 attacks. He had always felt that the American attitude did not suit him. He struggles to identify himself in the chaos that follows the attacks, with Muslims being maltreated and spied upon. Back at home in Lahore, his home city, the air is tense with news about the nuclear states going to war against each other. Changhez is angered by the fact that America holds a neutral position that can benefit the larger belligerent (India) in the state of affairs. He also realizes that apart from sending money to his family, he can not be of any assistance to them despite the education and lifestyle he enjoyed in America.
He finds himself having difficulty at focusing on work. During a project in Chile, someone tolds him that he is like a Christian Janissary-boys who were trained by the Turks to fight against their own people. This serves as the last push Changhez needs. He leaves America and returns to Pakistan. He believes that by not working for America, he is preventing America from using him to grow her financial power that helps her get away from the crimes against humanity that she commits so often.
Written as a powerful thriller and at only 110 pages long, the Reluctant Fundamentalist, is a powerful critique of American corporate culture and politics as it affects foreigners that believe in the American dream.