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Author Quotes: “I certainly was working toward an ambiguous ending, one that would reflect the reader’s own view of the world back at him or her. Depending on how the reader views the world in which the novel takes place, the reader can see the novel as a thriller or as an encounter between two rather odd gentlemen. Because the journey I am asking readers to undertake is emotional and troubling, I knew I wanted a strong narrative pull, a mystery that would add urgency to their reading. The ending, I hope, is the culmination of those efforts"
―Mohsin Hamid: Interview with Mohsin Hamid with Michelle Blankenship for Harcourt Books.
Book Club Extraordinaire is reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid on February 16, 2012
Book Club Extraordinaire’s February selection, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, I found to be extremely disturbing. The novel’s protagonist, a young Pakistani man named Changez living in New York City admits to smiling when he learned of the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He explains, “…I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees.”
The novel is told in the first person narrative allowing the reader to see the point of view of Changez as he recollects his thoughts during the time period centering around 9/11. This narrative style creates an intimate look into Changez’ inner turmoil as he struggles with his identity as a Pakistani living the American dream.
The novel begins in Pakistan when he encounters an American in Lahore, his hometown. Changez invites him to tea and spills out the story of his life. He came to America to attend Princeton then spent four and a half years in New York working at a high-paying job for Underwood Samson, an elite firm that evaluates business around the world. Before beginning his career, he takes a trip to Greece to celebrate graduation and meets stunningly regal blonde Erica who becomes his beloved. One problem in the relationship, Erica is unable to let go of her dead childhood sweetheart named Chris.
Hamid uses symbolism: Erica is America (Am-Erica) and Chris refers to Christopher Columbus and America’s association with its past, and Changez stands for the country’s inability to accept change.
Changez resentment grows as he comes to the realization that he was a man lacking in substance. In the end, Changez tells the American, "I had always resented the manner in which America conducted itself in the world; your country's constant interference in the affairs of others was insufferable. Vietnam, Korea, the straits of Taiwan ..."
A grim sense of foreboding prevails throughout the novel. The book ends in ambiguity revealed in the final sentences as Changez is escorting the anxious American back to his hotel, he says, “I detect a glint of metal. Given that you and I are now bound by a certain shared intimacy, I trust it is from the holder of your business cards.” Like Alastair Sooke writes in his review for the Telegraph, Man Booker 2007 Prize: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, “I closed the book with a shudder.”
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