The novel begins a few years after 9/11. Changez happens upon the American in Lahore, invites him to tea and tells him the story of his life in the months just before and after the attacks. That monologue is the substance of Hamid's elegant and chilling little novel.... A less sophisticated author might have told a one-note story in which an immigrant's experiences of discrimination and ignorance cause his alienation. But Hamid's novel, while it contains a few such moments, is distinguished by its portrayal of Changez's class aspirations and inner struggle. His resentment is at least in part self-loathing, directed at the American he'd been on his way to becoming. For to be an American, he declares, is to view the world in a certain way—a perspective he absorbed in his eagerness to join the country's elite.
Karen Olsson - New York Times Book Review
The courage of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is in the telling of a story about a Pakistani man who makes it and then throws it away because he doesn't want it anymore, because he realizes that making it in America is not what he thought it was or what it used to be. The monologue form allows for an intimate conversation, as the reader and the American listener become one. Are we sitting across from Changez at a table in Lahore, joining him in a sumptuous dinner? Do his comments cause us to bristle, making us more and more uncomfortable? Extreme times call for extreme reactions, extreme writing. Hamid has done something extraordinary with this novel, and for those who want a different voice, a different view of the aftermath of 9/11, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is well worth reading.
Laila Halaby - Washington Post
It's a testament to author Mohsin Hamid's skill that Changez, despite this cold-blooded admission, remains a partly sympathetic character.... Everything we know comes to us by his voice, by turns emotionally raw, teasingly ambiguous, fawning and tinged with menace. We read on to see what he will reveal, increasingly certain that he will also conceal.
Dallas Morning News
Hamid's second book (after Moth Smoke) is an intelligent and absorbing 9/11 novel, written from the perspective of Changez, a young Pakistani whose sympathies, despite his fervid immigrant embrace of America, lie with the attackers. The book unfolds as a monologue that Changez delivers to a mysterious American operative over dinner at a Lahore, Pakistan, cafe. Pre-9/11, Princeton graduate Changez is on top of the world: recruited by an elite New York financial company, the 22-year-old quickly earns accolades from his hard-charging supervisor, plunges into Manhattan's hip social whirl and becomes infatuated with Erica, a fellow Princeton graduate pining for her dead boyfriend. But after the towers fall, Changez is subject to intensified scrutiny and physical threats, and his co-workers become markedly less affable as his beard grows in ("a form of protest," he says). Erica is committed to a mental institution, and Changez, upset by his adopted country's "growing and self-righteous rage," slacks off at work and is fired. Despite his off-putting commentary, the damaged Changez comes off as honest and thoughtful, and his creator handles him with a sympathetic grace.
A Princeton degree, a high-class job, a well-connected girlfriend: immigrant Changez would seem to have it all, until the tumbling of the Twin Towers realigns his thinking.
A young Muslim's American experience raises his consciousness and shapes his future in this terse, disturbing successor to the London-based Pakistani author's first novel, Moth Smoke (2000). It's presented as a "conversation," of which we hear only the voice of protagonist Changez, speaking to the unnamed American stranger he encounters in a cafe in the former's native city of Lahore. Changez describes in eloquent detail his arrival in America as a scholarship student at Princeton, his academic success and lucrative employment at Underwood Samson, a "valuation firm" that analyzes its clients' businesses and counsels improvement via trimming expenses and abandoning inefficient practices-i.e., going back to "fundamentals." Changez's success story is crowned by his semi-romantic friendship with beautiful, rich classmate Erica, to whom he draws close during a summer vacation in Greece shared by several fellow students. But the idyll is marred by Erica's distracted love for a former boyfriend who died young and by the events of 9/11, which simultaneously make all "foreigners" objects of suspicion. Changez reacts in a manner sure to exacerbate such suspicions ("I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees"). A visit home to a country virtually under siege, a breakdown that removes the fragile Erica yet further from him and the increasing enmity toward "non-whites" all take their toll: Changez withdraws from his cocoon of career and financial security ("...my days of focusing on fundamentals were done") and exits the country that had promised so much, becoming himself the bearded, vaguely menacing "stranger" who accompanies his increasingly worried listener to the latter's hotel. The climax builds with masterfully controlled irony and suspense. A superb cautionary tale, and a grim reminder of the continuing cost of ethnic profiling, miscommunication and confrontation.
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