REVIEW: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

This novella – which I learnt is something between a short story and a novel – is as thought provoking as it is quirky, a tale that pulled the strings of my heart attached to the many idiosyncrasies of my homeland. Perhaps I took a

more personal liking to it, (indeed, I caught myself smiling on multiple occasions), seeing as I have already been exposed to its sights, sounds and smells, but nevertheless, Mohsin Hamid’s vividly accurate descriptions do justice to those who have not yet had the luxury of experiencing Pakistan. I am certainly no more than an intermittent tourist there, but I am definitely no novice to its, whimsical disposition, shall we say? (I can hear the undercurrent of fondness for my country seeping through which I shall take as my cue to proceed to the plot itself).

I was surprised to discover that this book was published in 2007 and I have only just had the pleasure of reading it. The book is set in an outdoor cafe in Lahore where the protagonist is recounting his story of the life he left behind in New York, to an American stranger of pre and post 9/11, encompassing his career, love-life (if it can even be called that), his perspective and his internal conflicts of the grey area that the aftermath of 9/11 had led him to explore.

The book is structured such that he goes back & forth between his reminiscent storytelling and the present moments of actually speaking to and having a meal with us (us being the American stranger, as the book is written in second person). This smooth transition from past to present can happen unexpectedly sometimes, but is refreshing and delightfully alternates between the imagery and atmosphere of the two countries, oddly making me feel at home with each page turned.
At the same time, it gives an insight into the gratuitous difficulties of the common man, singled out because he chose to grow his facial hair, suffering the true brunt of racial profiling.

But they mean you no harm, I assure you. It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins.

Delighted to have picked up this gem of a book on impulse as I was indulging in a pragmatic internal battle to not pick every book I could see in sight vis-à-vis the titles I had listed on a paper, from the row of dusty brown carts that seemed to have materialised out of nowhere just as I was walking along the street, which was, up until a minute ago, choked with a variety of shops. (That’s Karachi for you).

Excited to read his other works. Are you? 

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