The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Despite my reading and writing commitments, I have managed to ‘flick channels’ and read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, I won’t spoil it for you. Well, not too much.

The janissaries of the Ottoman empire captured Christian boys trained to fight against their own people, which they did with singular ferocity. This interesting class of warrior is described during a business lunch to Changez, the young hero of Mohsin Hamid’s second novel, at a moment of crisis over his own identity. Born in Pakistan, educated at Princeton and currently the hottest new employee at a New York firm specialising in ruthless appraisals of ailing companies being targeted for takeover, Changez recognises himself in the description. “I was a modern-day janissary,” he observes, “a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine …”

The recognition completes a process of inward transformation that began when he realised he was half-gladdened by the World Trade Center attacks, and it now prompts him to sabotage his own high-flying career, to give up his pursuit of the beautiful, troubled Wasp princess Erica and go back to Lahore. There, bearded and generally reacculturated, he meets an American in a restaurant in the Old Anarkali district, and buttonholes him with his life story. The novel is his monologue: a quietly told, cleverly constructed fable of infatuation and disenchantment with America, set on the treacherous faultlines of current east/west relations, and finely tuned to the ironies of mutual – but especially American – prejudice and misrepresentation.

I’ll let you uncover the rest. The Reluctant Fundamentalist has a genuinely provocative nature, and it remains, at the very least, an intelligent, highly engaging piece of work.

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