Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist- Mohsin Hamid

Posted on March 6, 2010

Anushri Mondal:

–A confrontation of the two selves within the psyche of one persona.

A little thicker than a pocket book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Mohsin Hamid’s attempt to give an expression to the pyschological state of a Pakistani immigrant stationed in the glamorous, high-tech United States in the wake of the September 9/11 attacks.

The story is primarily built up of two plots, the one dealing with the protagonist, Changez’s struggle to mount up the ladders of success after graduating from Princeton in the class of 2001 and subsequently landing into one of the dream jobs in Underwood Samson. The second plot deals with Changez’s strained but intimate relationship with the daughter of an investment banker, Erica. The relationship is intimate because of the emotional and physical bonding they share and because of Erica’s almost obsessive incapability to reach out to a world devoid of her childhood sweetheart, Chris.

The tale initiates with Changez relating the events of his life with each other, as he flew to the moneyed world of the United States, his experiences over there leading to his subsequent return to his native country.

The event of the attack on the twin towers in the wake of the month of September serves as the climactic backdrop. The subconscious hatred towards the American soil mining the “rags to the riches” individuals in leaps and bounds is what the tale serves to indicate. What is unusual is the aspect of contentment felt by Changez in the event of the attack is the contentment in the thought that at least someone had the courage enough to destabilize this apparently relaxed country, bathed in the golden sunshine of glitz and glamour, a country that seems to give the least amount of thought to the concepts of impoverishment, hunger, contamination, disease, that so many countries in the world seem to undergo without a ray of getting a relief from the grasp of such ailments.

It is the event of the attack that brings about a change in the mental make up of the protagonist, making him question about his identity, his race and his root lying back home in Pakistan. These feelings get an added invigoration after the sudden change amongst his fellow companions towards his personality. Changez, in this context becomes a representative of the ill treatment meted out to the Muslim population residing in America.

On a different light, Erica too suffers a setback after the universal shock received by Americans, 9/11 attacks. Erica too suffers from intense psychic nostalgia, a nostalgia of days gone by, days spent in the company of her lover, Chris, the same Chris who does not exist in the world of physical reality but perhaps in the world of spirits. It is this world of spirits that Erica wants to visit, she yearns to share the same space as that of Chris and it is probably this attempt to discard the present reality that she lapses into a traumatic condition, a condition that resulted in her accommodation by the garb of invisibility.

Published in the year 2007, the novel, as suggestive by its very name, tries to unearth the fundamentals of humanity, that is, the core of the human self, the self that is hidden from the outside world, may be even from ones own self and comes out only when the foundation of the external, physical world is threatened.