Look who made the VisualThesaurus.com Blog Du Jour list today!
This latest review is courtesy of Leah Shearer. Leah is a Rochester teacher and writer, who happens to have her finger on the pulse of local culture. It may well be that she won’t write another review for me after that, but if not, then she will be coming in and going out with a bang as she has done Moshin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentilist much justice. Enjoy.
Is there a definitive recipe for an American?
Are there things within us that define who we are within our own culture?
Moreover, are we tied inextricably to such a definition?
These are questions I was pondering considerably after reading Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Somehow, through the troubled and weary eyes of Changez, the main character, I opened my own.
In Lahore, Pakistan Changez, a twenty-something Pakistani native, encounters an edgy American stranger and awkwardly befriends him. Eagerly and without reservation, at a small cafÃ© Changez recounts to this stranger of his experience in America. He begins with his life as a student at Princeton and later as a young professional in Manhattan, making an assent up the corporate ladder. The younger Changez he describes is a hopeful, yet slightly cautious student who marvels at the brash and frivolous ways of his American counterparts at Princeton. After he is scooped up by a Manhattan valuation firm the real stage for the story is set. Changez feels a tug of war between his Pakistani roots and the identity which he has tried to portray in his newly adopted country. A pressure to blend in, to Americanize, begins to steer him farther away from his heritage, his upbringing. Yet Manhattan, if not entirely America, had been good to him. Then comes that one Tuesday morning in September. It changes everything.
The story is told well after the wake of September 11th, the dust has settled and Changez is now quietly and irreversibly changed. Hamid uses a strikingly fresh narrative approach in his novella, fusing the entire story into one seamlessly constructed conversation. Little information is given about the unnamed stranger with whom Changez converses. He is simply the sounding board, the man on the receiving end of Changez’s storytelling. Indeed, the importance of this encounter is not the mere interaction between the dinner companions. It is in the transformation of Changez, replayed for us in his own reminiscing. Above all it is the story of the confused and muddled mix that comprises ones cultural identity. It is a crisp and believable picture that Hamid paints effortlessly.
After September 11th patriotism blanketed this country in one sweeping rallying cry. In an attempt to restore triumph in a time of tragedy we banded together. We saw it. We witnessed it. We were unified yet remiss in noticing those absent from our midst. Those left outside of that circle, those of varying Middle Eastern backgrounds, were sometimes left isolated, perhaps even feeling abandoned by their adopted country.
Some characters carry a story all on their own. Anything else in the mix is backdrop. Hamid, in Changez has created one of those stand alone characters. I even see a little bit of Holden Caulfield in Changez. It might seem like a stretch to draw such a comparison to J.D. Salinger’s archetypal teenage protagonist. Yet, I heard it in his observations, the less than subtle way he questioned contradictions. Granted, he’s a little older, a little darker skinned, but the alienation and the detachment seems to ring clear just the same.
Don’t be reluctant to pick up The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
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