“A powerful narrative about cultural identity and the importance of learning from history.”
“But surely it is the gist that matters; I am, after all, telling you a history, and in history, as I suspect you – an American – will agree, it is the thrust of one’s narrative that counts, not the accuracy of one’s details.” ~ The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid.
Changez is a young Pakistani man who comes to America to pursue the American Dream, He is well on his way as a graduate of Harvard, and a successful consultant in a highly respected firm on Wall Street when the devastating events of September 11, 2001 create a destructive rippling in his life.
This 226 page novel has an understated quality, playing out at a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan, as an older Changez converses with an unnamed American stranger, reminiscing about his life in America, and explaining why he left reluctantly.
There is a sense of disquiet as Changez talks calmly to the American while addressing his discomfort at being in a foreign setting. We discover how and why Changez completely understands the unsettled stranger.
As a young Princeton student, Changez embraced his experiences, the culture and the people of America. He even found a woman that he loved to be with. However, after September 11th, 2011, things changed. People questioned his identity and loyalties to America. And, he had a growing conflict within between his own country and his loyalty to a country that seemed to be full of rhetoric and practices fueled by misunderstanding and hatred.
The themes of history, identity and cultural divide in The Reluctant Fundamentalist affected me deeply. I thought a lot about this book, and feeling the weight of history, its significance to us, as a civilization, that continues to face the same battle of race and cultural division.
This is not necessarily about politics, though politics, of course, plays a role in the story. Rather, for me, this is a book about people. It’s about diverse cultures and nations of people, and how we are not all the same, nor are we all so different from one another.
Incidentally, this was made into a movie in 2012, and was directed by Mira Nair (Namesake, Cutie and the Boxer). I haven’t seen it, but from the poster and trailer, it doesn’t seem to be true to the book or capture the nuances that make the book so powerful.
If this title interests you, check out:
Travels with George: In Search of Washington and his Legacy by Nathaniel Philbrick