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the-reluctant-fundamentalist.jpgMohsin Hamid
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Harcourt, Inc.

Some of you who have read the interview with Rachel Taylor Brown may have picked up on a reference to one or two major books. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is one of them. Written by a Pakistani émigré living in London, the novel is widely considered to be one of the first post-9/11 novels written from a Muslim point of view. It is also one of the more painfully honest works written since the Twin Towers collapsed (Towelhead by Alicia Erian, is another). Though it is not the weightiest of tomes, what it lacks in width it makes up for in depth.

The book concerns an émigré and former member of the Pakistani elite, Changez. A graduate of Princeton, he is the beneficiary of America’s educational system. As a financial analyst for Underwood Samson, he is able to observe the upper crust of New York society up close in a way that most Americans only dream of. Yet as his personal and professional life crumbles in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, he is exposed to an unprecedented level of discrimination and hatred from the people of his adopted homeland. Confused and seething with hatred, he abandons America to fight for the other team in an epic struggle pitting West and East, until a mysterious stranger pays him a fateful visit.

Unlike some post-9/11 novels out there, the story is told from a first person point of view, giving audiences an unprecedented (if limited) view of the conflict from Changez’s own eyes. Though no one ever sees into the mind of the American tasked with interrogating him, through Changez’s anecdotes, the reader learns to sympathize with him, if not condone his lifestyle. Rather than coming off as one of thousands of Pakistanis who “hate us,” he is a complex character with mixed feelings, yet his allegiance to the Cause is unmistakable. While The Reluctant Fundamentalist is far from cocktail reading, at 184 pages, it is an dark, illuminating novel that forces us to ask whether East and West are really compatible, if at all.

At $11.00, this is definitely worth a skim.

–John Winn