Friday, February 17, 2012

The reluctant fundamentalist

I read Mohsin Hamid's, "The reluctant fundamentalist", primarily because of the title, and his interview when he visited India.


Changez loves America and Erica. Changez waits for America and Erica to love him, only to understand America's self-centeredness, and Erica's obsessive love for her dead lover. Chengez realizes both of them can never love him, because both of them are deeply mad and buried in their colonial past.

The story revolves around where the writer has lived in the past - Lahore, Princeton and New York. There is detailed description of how a corporate capitalistic world works, and how it tries to control the third world (Chengez was sent to Philippines and South America). There is no mention of democracy in the narration. Possibly, Hamid indirectly wants to say there is no difference between capitalism and democracy.

The best of the Christian boys were captured and forcefully trained by Ottoman empire to fight against their own people in 14th century. The best of the Muslim boys choose to study and live in America, where their mentality is converted indirectly to fight against their own religion in 21st century. Chengez, a hard-working, intelligent, American educated Muslim, although a deep lover of America, unwillingly decides to return to his country, Pakistan, to become a fundamentalist (not a fascist).

But what Hamid completely fails to explain is how this is affecting Islam, although there is glimpse of explanation how American capitalism is trying to kill the cultures across the world. But the narrator often mistakes his culture for religion, and religion for his culture. 

Hamid completely fails to build the tension between India and Pakistan.
From an Indian point of view (I was in India at the time of the novel's period), the media or we the people, never discussed about the possibility of a war between India and Pakistan after Kargil war. But the fear from Pakistan's point of view might be real, but again, Chengez's explanation sounds too artificial and unreal.

Changez talks about twin towers, Sep 11, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, but Hamid fails to make emotional link with Chengez's background or current status. Love and loss of Erica looks more real than his anger towards America's capitalism and foreign policy. The young man's change from capitalist to fundamentalist is too predictive, but extremely unconvincing. 

Despite being superficial, the novel does provoke some thoughts about American capitalism and foreign policy, and also about the mindset of a Pakistani youth who tries to find fault in India and America for its current state.


  1. I found the book dealt more with confusion of identity then anything else. Reading it a number of times, you pick up on different things each time and this theme gets stronger after each read.
    One would notice that his everyday life and relationships are reflective to the bigger picture. His relationship to the US and attitudes towards the US from Pakistan and vise versa. The novel is written as one long monologue which changes the feel of this book. As a reader you feel you are being spoken to directly, and are allowed room for your own thoughts to develop.
    This book was written with the intention to provoke thoughts. The title alone does this and contributes greatly to the ideas that come from reading this book.

  2. This book resunated with me well beyond the conclusion. Hamid's writing style surpasses anything I have ever read. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a must read!

  3. Keshav,
    Thanks for the article.