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The Reluctant Fundamentalist    by Mohsin Hamid Amazon.com order for
Reluctant Fundamentalist
by Mohsin Hamid
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

This is, in its way, a delightful novel. Hamid draws us into his book as we join Changez and his guest in a Lahore cafe. Changez is a native Pakistani who was able, through hard work and a flair for soccer, to get an international scholarship to Princeton. The guest is an unknown American who most certainly does not feel at ease in the bustle of the Lahore market. The reader is left to contemplate the nature of the guest's business, and this mystery is never quite elucidated, building the tension very gradually to a simmering point.

We learn all about Changez through his monologue to the strange guest: Although Changez felt out-of-place in the rarefied air of Princeton, he found his niche upon graduating, taking up an internship at Underwood Samson, a small but successful valuation firm in New York. Changez found the city riveting, with its multiethnic diversity, fast pace and cultural events. He spent many evenings with Erica, whom he'd met on a trip to Greece in the summer of his graduating year; Changez was completely smitten by Erica but she merely cherished their friendship, which she said helped her battle her own destructive demons.

Changez's life changed with the terrorist attacks on September 11: At work he was no longer accepted as an exotic member of the team, on the metro he was shouted at and spat upon, and the growing tension between Pakistan and India made him extremely fearful for his family and homeland. Overnight he became an outcast and in protest he walked around unshaven, sporting the facial hair so often associated with Muslim fundamentalists. In addition, the ghosts of Erica's past resurfaced, putting her completely out of reach for Changez. His decision to return to his country of birth was born out of a sense of no longer fitting into a society that had turned introspective and zealous in its urge to rid itself of anyone alien to the American ideal. Back in Pakistan Changez began teaching at the university in Lahore and even admits to his guest that he encouraged his students to voice their grievances and demonstrate against US imperialism.

Why is Changez entertaining this guest? Who exactly is the guest? Why is the guest so very wary of his surroundings? Is he on a mission? These questions can only be answered by reading Hamid's novel or will they? The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an intriguing read.

Listen to a podcast interview with the author at WrittenVoices.com

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