Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

I read this book all wrong. I read it thinking it was just a novel. And when I finished it I had no idea what had happened or what it was about. But you can't read this novel that way. And I wish I had known this before I started reading it because now that I know what I know I am going to have to read it all over again.

Changez is from Pakistan and honours his family by winning a scholarship to Harvard University. Upon graduating he is offered the top place at the premier management consultancy, Underwood Sampson. He excels by living and breathing his work. He falls in love with a woman, Erica, who does not, cannot reciprocate his love due to her history.

And then 9/11 happens and Changez's love affairs with America and Erica end. His place in the society abruptly and subtly morphs into something much more sinister.

Reviews I have read indicate this book is metaphor for the US and the changes that have happened there since 9/11.

The book is entirely told in the first person. You never hear the voice of the American Changez is speaking to. You have no idea how they met or what brought them together. You don't know if Changez is good or bad and you don't know if the American is good or bad. The allegory works perfectly.

Hamid is originally from Lahore. He attended Princeton and worked briefly for a management consultancy in America. He now lives in London. One wonders how much of this is autobiographical.

Book Group Verdict: This was the second selection of the Waterstone's book group and probably my favourite of the two. More people read this book than the other I think largely because it was much shorter and took no more than a few days to get through it. It's not one of those books that you "like". It just makes you think. Which definitely means I recommend it. Thinking is good. As a result of the book group I increased my understanding of the content and will definitely re-read.


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