Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid

Read: 9
To Go: 91

Book List:
1. The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
2. The Pilot’s Wife — Anita Shreve
3. Creatures of Light and Darkness — Roger Zelazny
4. What We All Long For — Dionne Brand
5. The Guilty Plea — Robert Rotenberg
6. Stray Bullets — Robert Rotenberg
7. Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan
8. The Lost Wife — Alyson Richman
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid

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I have a funny story about how I came to read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Near the end of 2012 I read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, and, of course, being a book about a book club, it mentioned a lot of the novels that Will and Mary Anne had shared between them. A few of them ended up on my to-read list, and some of them I just recognized when I saw them in passing in a library or a bookstore. The Reluctant Fundamentalist was one of the latter; when I went book shopping after Christmas, I walked past it, recognized the name, and read the description. After that, I was sold.

As dusk settles over the Old Anarkali district of Lahore, Pakistan, a mysterious stranger sits down to tea with an American man. The stranger is well-spoken and well-educated, and speaks freely of his past life as a Princeton student, his later success on Wall Street, and his impossible love of a troubled, ill woman named Erica. As the street lamps flicker and the last of the evening light disappears, he explains how the American Dream turned on him, and suddenly the true reason for his presence becomes incredibly clear.

I’d heard before I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist that it was written in second person, which was something I’d never seen done before. I wasn’t sure how well that would go over with me, but it ended up being one of the reasons I loved the book. Changez, our mysterious protagonist, is telling the American about his life, but the point of view puts the reader right in the American’s chair — you are who he’s meeting that evening. You are the recipient of his story, his solicitous nature, his formal politeness. You enjoy  tea with him, and then dinner, and then a walk down a suspiciously dark, empty road.

And when Changez’s story takes an abrupt turn for the worst, you are the one that starts to panic.

A rather benign tale of an immigrant’s success in America soon becomes a political thriller that constantly challenges your perceptions in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which kept the pages turning, and had my mind reeling long after I read the last word.  The ending was stunning, and even though I can’t quite figure out what happened, I don’t think I want to.

After I finished reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist I went searching for the book cover image to post with my review, and, through lazy Google-ing, realized that the movie adaptation is coming out in April. Then I watched the trailer and freaked out. It looks amazing!

Next book: not sure yet. But you’ll be the first to know!

– Kelsey

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