Hello 🙂 As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be changing the content of this blog quite a lot in the coming months. I thought I’d make my first foray into this new world with a book review! I haven’t written a book review since I was about sixteen, so please bear with me 🙂 it is all a learning curve. Let me know any constructive feedback in the comments!
Recently I picked up The Reluctant Fundamentalist in Waterstones without having heard anything much of Mohsin Hamid before – I noticed it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007 and have always enjoyed Man Booker Prize shortlisted and winning titles, so it seemed like a good place to start.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a postmodern novel set in Pakistan several years after 9/11. It is written in a monologue from the perspective of Changez; a young Pakistani man who tells the story of how he set out for America in pursuit of a high class education, and landed a respectable job in the valuation industry in New York following his graduation. Changez recounts how he entertained a love interest with a young American woman, and for a short while everything seemed to be working out perfectly for him. As with all good stories, tragedy struck when 9/11 shook the American soil, and fear struck the hearts of the American citizens. Changez describes what it was like to be a non-political Pakistani man in post-9/11 America, and how the event changed the course of his life. The story illustrates the psychological challenges faced by the young protagonist both in the account of his dalliance with American life, and in the present day as he continues his life and political work in Pakistan.
The tale takes place in a small Lahore cafe, and Changez’s account is interspersed with references to the present moment… “But observe! A flower seller approaches. I will summon him to our table.” I felt that this style reinforced the monologue nature of the storytelling – it brought a more familiar feel to the idea of absorbing a story from one side only. I did find that the monologue style made it quite difficult to connect emotionally with the characters (which is usually what makes a book come alive, for me). There were exceptions, such as when Changez was describing his various interactions, but the whole book had a very one-sided feel. Faithfully postmodern, the reader relies on the narrator’s perspective throughout, and it is up to the reader to determine the meaning of the story… as always this is a testy balance between benefit and drawback but the ambiguity of the conclusions drawn definitely adds something to the reading experience for me.
Personally I found it hard to gain any kind of momentum in reading this book – it wasn’t a page-turner of any kind for me, probably due to my lack of emotional connection to the characters. It was nevertheless a thoughtful read, and I would certainly recommend it as an ‘opening’ to political fiction if you are that way inclined.
I would give The Radical Fundamentalist a rating of 3/5 – it was politically stimulating but I wouldn’t say I actually *enjoyed* reading it per se… but I would certainly recommend reading it if only to give insight to a non-Western perspective on 9/11. I do think that the novel was skilfully written, hence why I am giving it 3 out of 5 rather than 2 – if you get on well with a monologue style you will most likely get a lot out of the book.
Have you read this book? If so, what were your thoughts – did you enjoy the monologue style? What were your most and least favourite aspects of the story? 🙂 Let me know what you think in the comments!