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Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Most Westerners, particularly those from the US, naturally only have the US view of 9/11, namely that it was a wicked act of aggression against innocent people. End of story. Few are even familiar with, let alone supportive of the alternative point of view, namely that the US got what was coming to it, after years of aggression and killing, nearly all aimed at developing countries and, in particular, the poor of those countries, purely to benefit US commercial and political interests. This novel partially (but only partially) attempts to give that other viewpoint.

Changez comes from a distinguished but somewhat impoverished Pakistani family. He wins a scholarship to Princeton but manages to keep the fact that he has to work to support himself hidden from his fellow students. He is bright and very successful at Princeton, both academically and also in football, till he injures himself. At the end of his undergraduate period at Princeton he applies for a job at a prestigious New York financial valuation firm, Underwood Samson, where, to his surprise, he is taken on. Before starting, using his signing on bonus, he goes on holiday to Greece, where he meets Erica, a fellow Princeton student. He falls for Erica (of course) but they remain friends. He learns that she had been in love with Chris but Chris had died and she has not got over his death, and still loves him. She is looking for friendship with Changez; he is looking for something more.

He first gets a twinge of unease on his first assignment in the Philippines, a recognition that he is with the dominant power and the people are his inferiors. This is a 9/11 novel and that event changes things both for him and for Erica. It happens on his last day in the Philippines and, of course, as a Pakistani, it is not made easy for him when he returns to the US. However, while sympathetic to the victims, he also has a sense that the US, at least in part, deserved the attack. Erica, for her part, is disrupted by the event and it reopens her sad feelings about Chris. However, it is on his third assignment, in Chile, when he and a colleague are likely to have to recommend the closure of the literary publishing side of a publisher. His meetings with the head of this division make him think even more about both his role and the role of the US.

We know, to a certain degree, what is going to happen. He tells his story, while in Lahore, to a visiting American. The entire story is told by him. While the American clearly responds, we only know of the American’s responses by what Changez says. Changez is both somewhat oily in his story telling but also we have a suspicion that something untoward is going to happen. The American is regaled with food and drink and kept until late. The ending is somewhat but not totally surprising. What is interesting is getting another perspective on 9/11 and seeing the story from the perspective of a Pakistani, even if he is a well-to-do, US-educated Pakistani from a distinguished family. Now if we could get the story from the point of a view of an ordinary, impoverished Pakistani, that would be interesting.

Publishing history

First published 2007 by Hamish Hamilton