Thursday, April 01, 2010

Mini-Review of "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" by Mohsin Hamid

It is no surprise that Mohsin Hamid's second novel, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," became a New York Times Bestseller and the winner of multiple literary awards. It is a brilliant book that is a small gem that glistens softly and darkly - more of a star opal than a glittering diamond. Hamid using a unique approach - a sole narrator, the young Pakistani, Changez. The action - much of which is interior and psychological action -unfolds as Changez converses with an unnamed American stranger with whom he shares a table at a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan. The effect is like that of listening in on only one half of a phone conversation and having to fill in the missing pieces from the context of the answers given and questions posed by the narrator.

With the exception of Changez, all of the other characters exist only as seen through his perception of them or as revealed through his description of them. It is akin to our not being able to see the wind, but to learn of its nature by the effect that it has upon the objects that move in response to its shifting currents and eddies.

Hamid does a breath-taking job of subtly limning the ambiguities of interpersonal intercourse and international intrigue. One never knows - even at the end of the story - if we are dealing with two "normal" human beings interacting in space and time at an outdoor cafe in Lahore, or if one is an actual or potential terrorist and the other a potential assassin. The clues and muted red herrings are there for the reader to interpret based upon his world view, fears, prejudices and presuppositions. This is a post-9/11 tale of dark and muted rage and paranoia.

The themes swirl around the twin towers of fear and ghosts. I dare not say more, lest I spoil what should be an intriguing and delicious read for most sentient readers.



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