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Book Review : The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid


Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist By Mohsin Hamid.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist it is not about the hyphenated identity crisis where the emigrant longs for his roots- plenty books have dealt with that in plenty tired ways. Here the voice of the narrator - a tense monologue -reveals the dilemma of the Self as the Other sees him. Post 9/11, a Pakistani in America is viewed with suspicion and fear. The “fragile identity” of the narrator slowly merges with the image the Other has of the Self. The slow change of the protagonist from a self assured executive to the image of the “fundamentalist stereotype” manufactured by Americans is angst ridden and tense. Satre’s theory of Existentialism points to this effect: “The Other has not only revealed to me what I was; he has established me in a type of being which can support new qualifications. This being was not in me potentially before the appearance of the Other, for it could not have found any place in the For-itself….. ”

The protagonist Changez is a 22 year old Pakistani in the US, after an education in Princeton, he is employed by Underwood Samson a valuation firm. It’s a rosy life. Then 9/11 happens and the American attitude changes. The idea of the religious fundamentalist, a potential terrorist, is manufactured right down to The Look: A beard becomes a symbol to fear. The suspicion and antagonism of the people and the government on the roads, in the airport, in the office sends Changez through an “inflective journey”. He begins to study the position of himself as both a Muslim and as a Pakistani as America wages war against Afghanistan. And Changez views himself as a modern day janissary. “There really could be no doubt: I was a modern day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war.” (“Janissaries were Christian boys captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal: they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to.”)

It is not easy to walk away from a cushy job and a comfortable life and return to Pakistan, a third world country, on the brink of war with India. I will not divulge more. Though I must mention here that the treatment of Changez’s American girlfriend Erica is both sensitive and interesting too.

In a lighter vein: Ah, the Booker Prize once again has us waiting without taking a loo break. Cant afford to dash in there in case we miss their silly announcements. Remember in 1997 the prize winning author went to the loo to relieve herself at the precise moment when the prize was announced. How do I know that you would ask? Well Silly, the author coolly revealed that on NDTV and poor Prannoy blushed to the roots of his…….

While in some years it is The Man Booker prize decisions itself that are made in the confines of the crappy loos. Take for instance last year when the prize went to the Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai. The big judge had perhaps taken it to flush it down the pot but seduced by the large Indian market had quietly come out and given away the prize to the goody Little Miss Muffet.

Little Miss Kiran Desai has nothing to say and says that becomingly well. And it was for that pertinent reason she was bestowed the prize. It just underlines the fact that everything is governed by the market forces and that SEDUCTIVE WHORE called MONEY. Compulsions are that the prize has to go the Indian way once in a while: even if the book is trash: the Indian market is obscenely too large to deny us the grand prize.

I have not attempted here a full fledged review of the Reluctant Fundamentalist. Just a few random thoughts. The book is worth the Read and our precious time. I hope this year the judges do not make their decisions in the loo and Mohsin Hamid gets the Booker.

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