Pakistan maybe known all over the world only for terrorism and dictatorship (and this is thanks to a very biased media) but as a country it is so much more than that-culturally and socially. Pakistan has a lot of history, tradition and the potential to churn out good writers as well. Mohsin Hamid is one such Pakistani writer. His book, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a gem of a book, a satire yet Hamid gives it a touch of seriousness. It is a well written book that delves into the Pakistani psyche, displays Pakistani perspective, a perspective quite different from the typical American one.
A Pakistani man, Changez, converses with an American stranger in a restaurant/cafe in Lahore and tells him about his life story and how his life changed post 9/11 attacks. He talks of his life in America, being a student in Princeton, falling in love with Erica, having a steady job in New York. He seemed to have the perfect life which was interrupted by a nostalgic need for his home in Lahore. He seemed at ease in America, didn’t suffer from any identity crisis, any cultural conflict whatsoever. But that changed after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Thereafter the paranoia started mounting, discrimination began and when America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Changez felt like he was betraying his homeland by earning in America. He thus returned to Lahore, got the post of a lecturer where he encouraged students to become activists.
The most unique aspect of ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is the fact that it is a monologue. Changez is the only person who is speaking. There are a few, rare dialogues spoken by Erica but essentially it is Changez’s voice, his narrative. We see everything from his eyes, his perspective.
‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a satire on the mistrust, the disharmony between the east and the west and America’s interference into the affairs of many Islamic nations. Mohsin Hamid subtly berates America for its policies, for being paranoid, for stereotyping all Muslims, all bearded Pakistanis as terrorists and for waging war when victory is impossible.
Its a brilliant read that takes on a very contemporary political issue and manifests the issue from a lesser known voice’s version. The writing style grasps the reader into the story thoroughly. Its a witty book with an intelligent title, a title that suggests that Pakistani people unwillingly become what the Americans call ‘fundamentalists’.