A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
A psychological thriller that spans continents and cultures, The Reluctant Fundamentalist takes us from the privileged confines of Princeton University to the anxious streets of contemporary Pakistan; from the sun-baked Greek island of Santorini to a sanitarium in the Hudson Valley; from the galleries of downtown Manhattan to the highest echelons of American finance. It's a journey we take in less than 200 pages, and without leaving, until the very end, a small table at a modest tearoom in Lahore, Pakistan -- and yet it is a journey that may reveal more about the human realities of the post-9/11 world than a shelf of thick political treatises.
At the table sit two men: a young Pakistani named Changez and an unnamed American. Only Changez speaks, and his mesmerizing monologue relates his story, beginning with his happy days at Princeton and continuing through his initial success as a well-paid financial analyst. His budding romance with Erica, a beautiful fellow Princetonian, runs in counterpoint to the early promise of his career.
Then come the attacks of September 11. Over the next few months, slowly but inexorably, the innocence of Changez's ambition is shadowed by his experience of the unexpected political present -- and by his altered understanding of his Pakistani past. As his career crumbles and Erica is consumed by her own demons, Changez's sense of his identity fractures under the strain of conflicting impulses of pride, passion, and loyalty. He returns to his homeland, and the complexity of his new life there is reflected in the alternating currents of his voice — ingratiating, insinuating, articulate, respectful, blunt, affecting, and, last but not least, sinister -- as he leads his companion toward an uncertain yet ominous conclusion.
An extraordinary work of empathy and imagination, Mohsin Hamid's novel vividly dramatizes the turmoil and terror of today's world in a single, unforgettable voice.
From Our Booksellers
Crisp and compelling…with an ending that will certainly encourage discussion…. A quick read that will have a long, lingering impact."
—Melissa Willits, Carmel, IN
Truly a work of genius.... Nothing is black and white in this world and Hamid doesn't let us forget that.
—Diane Carr, Chestnut Hill, MA
Controversial and eye-opening. I finished the book in one sitting.
—Tim Baldwin, Houston, TX
A terrifying look at the very thin line between us and them.
—Sandra Guerfi, White Plains, NY
Insightful, timely, and unsettling. This book puts a human face on a currently demonized culture.
—Teresa Patek, Crystal Lake, IL
Hamid's second novel succeeds so well it begs the question -- what other narrative format than a sustained monologue could have been as appropriate?
The novel begins a few years after 9/11. Changez happens upon the American in Lahore, invites him to tea and tells him the story of his life in the months just before and after the attacks. That monologue is the substance of Hamid's elegant and chilling little novel…A less sophisticated author might have told a one-note story in which an immigrant's experiences of discrimination and ignorance cause his alienation. But Hamid's novel, while it contains a few such moments, is distinguished by its portrayal of Changez's class aspirations and inner struggle. His resentment is at least in part self-loathing, directed at the American he'd been on his way to becoming. For to be an American, he declares, is to view the world in a certain waya perspective he absorbed in his eagerness to join the country's elite.
The New York Times
The courage of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is in the telling of a story about a Pakistani man who makes it and then throws it away because he doesn't want it anymore, because he realizes that making it in America is not what he thought it was or what it used to be. The monologue form allows for an intimate conversation, as the reader and the American listener become one. Are we sitting across from Changez at a table in Lahore, joining him in a sumptuous dinner? Do his comments cause us to bristle, making us more and more uncomfortable?
Extreme times call for extreme reactions, extreme writing. Hamid has done something extraordinary with this novel, and for those who want a different voice, a different view of the aftermath of 9/11, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is well worth reading.
The Washington Post
Hamid grabs hold of the American Dream as seen through the eyes of a young Princeton grad from Pakistan in a post-9/11 world. As the protagonist, Changez, finds moderate business success and romantic love in New York City, his heritage and identity will be lost in a sea of subtle and blatant bigotry as well as international politics. In relating this journey from loving to loathing of all things American, Changez speaks to a nameless and speechless American whom he encounters in the marketplace of his home city, Lahore, Pakistan. Bhabha's English-influenced Pakistani accent proves soothing and inviting for listeners. His gentle demeanor captures the courteous and polite manner of Changez. His American accent comes in the form of a Midwestern accent with a confident-almost arrogant-lilt. He lapses when it comes to vocalizing women. Though lighter, his voice exudes a stoic resonance instead of a feminine one. But the casual tone of Changez telling his life story translates perfectly with the help of Bhabha's velvet voice. Simultaneous release with the Harcourt hardcover (Reviews, Dec. 11). (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
director of The Namesake Mira Nair
"A searing and powerful account of a Pakistani in New York after 9/11."
A Princeton degree, a high-class job, a well-connected girlfriend: immigrant Changez would seem to have it all, until the tumbling of the Twin Towers realigns his thinking. From the author of Moth Smoke, a Betty Trask Award winner. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A young Muslim's American experience raises his consciousness and shapes his future in this terse, disturbing successor to the London-based Pakistani author's first novel, Moth Smoke (2000). It's presented as a "conversation," of which we hear only the voice of protagonist Changez, speaking to the unnamed American stranger he encounters in a cafe in the former's native city of Lahore. Changez describes in eloquent detail his arrival in America as a scholarship student at Princeton, his academic success and lucrative employment at Underwood Samson, a "valuation firm" that analyzes its clients' businesses and counsels improvement via trimming expenses and abandoning inefficient practices-i.e., going back to "fundamentals." Changez's success story is crowned by his semi-romantic friendship with beautiful, rich classmate Erica, to whom he draws close during a summer vacation in Greece shared by several fellow students. But the idyll is marred by Erica's distracted love for a former boyfriend who died young and by the events of 9/11, which simultaneously make all "foreigners" objects of suspicion. Changez reacts in a manner sure to exacerbate such suspicions ("I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees"). A visit home to a country virtually under siege, a breakdown that removes the fragile Erica yet further from him and the increasing enmity toward "non-whites" all take their toll: Changez withdraws from his cocoon of career and financial security (". . . my days of focusing on fundamentals were done") and exits the country that had promised so much, becoming himself the bearded, vaguely menacing "stranger" who accompanies hisincreasingly worried listener to the latter's hotel. The climax builds with masterfully controlled irony and suspense. A superb cautionary tale, and a grim reminder of the continuing cost of ethnic profiling, miscommunication and confrontation.
The Village Voice
"Brief, charming, and quietly furious … Hamid … is an artist of fantastic cunning, and his second novel (following the rightly praised Moth Smoke) demonstrates … that it is possible to simultaneously address the byzantine monstrosity of contemporary existence and care about the destiny of one's characters ... [A] resounding success."
The Seattle Times
"The author develops Changez's character so convincingly that by mid-book, readers understand Changez's anger, even if they don't agree with it ... brilliantly written and well worth a read."
The San Francisco Chronicle
" ... taut and accomplished ..."
The New York Times
"... elegant and chilling ..."
The Washington Post
"Extreme times call for extreme reactions, extreme writing. Hamid has done something extraordinary with this novel, and for those who want a different voice, a different view of the aftermath of 9/11, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is well worth reading."
The Dallas Morning News
"It's a testament to author Mohsin Hamid's skill that Changez, despite this cold-blooded admission, remains a partly sympathetic character ... Everything we know comes to us by his voice, by turns emotionally raw, teasingly ambiguous, fawning and tinged with menace. We read on to see what he will reveal, increasingly certain that he will also conceal."
New York Review of Books
"Far from seeming bothered by the literariness of literature, Mohsin Hamid appears to savor it. Ambiguity starts out as the delicate organizing principle of his novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist. By the end of the book it has turned into the disturbing payoff."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST
“Elegant and chilling . . . his tale [has] an Arabian Nights–style urgency: the end of the story may mean the death of the teller.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Slender, smart, and subversive.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Changez’s voice is extraordinary. Cultivated, restrained, yet also barbed and passionate, it evokes the power of butler Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.”—The Seattle Times
“A searing and powerful account of a Pakistani in New York after 9/11.”—Mira Nair, director of The Namesake
"A searing and powerful account of a Pakistani in New York after 9/11."
"I read Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist with increasing admiration. It is beautifully written--what a joy it is to find such intelligent prose, such clarity of thought and exposition--and superbly constructed. The author has managed to tighten the screw of suspense almost without our being aware it is happening, and the result is a tale of enormous tension. I read a lot of thrillers--or rather I start reading a lot of thrillers, and put most of them down--but this is more exciting than any thriller I've read for a long time, as well as being a subtle and elegant analysis of the state of our world today. I was enormously impressed."
"A brilliant book. With spooky restraint and masterful control, Hamid unpicks the underpinnings of the most recent episode of distrust between East and West. But this book does not merely excel in capturing a developing bitterness. The narrative is balanced by a love as powerful as the sinister forces gathering, even when it recedes into a phantom of hope. It is this balance, and the constant negotiation of the political with the personal, that creates a nuanced and complex portrait of a reluctant fundamentalist."
Read an Excerpt
EXCUSE ME, SIR, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.
How did I know you were American? No, not by the color of your skin; we have a range of complexions in this country, and yours occurs often among the people of our northwest frontier. Nor was it your dress that gave you away; a European tourist could as easily have purchased in Des Moines your suit, with its single vent, and your button-down shirt. True, your hair, short-cropped, and your expansive chestthe chest, I would say, of a man who bench-presses regularly, and maxes out well above two-twenty-fiveare typical of a certain type of American; but then again, sportsmen and soldiers of all nationalities tend to look alike. Instead, it was your bearing that allowed me to identify you, and I do not mean that as an insult, for I see your face has hardened, but merely as an observation.
Come, tell me, what were you looking for? Surely, at this time of day, only one thing could have brought you to the district of Old Anarkalinamed, as you may be aware, after a courtesan immured for loving a princeand that is the quest for the perfect cup of tea. Have I guessed correctly? Then allow me, sir, to suggest my favorite among these many establishments. Yes, this is the one. Its metal chairs are no better upholstered, its wooden tables are equally rough, and it is, like the others, open to the sky. But the quality of its tea, I assure you, is unparalleled.
You prefer that seat, with your back so close to the wall? Very well, although you will benefit less from the intermittent breeze, which, when it does blow, makes these warm afternoons more pleasant. And will you not remove your jacket? So formal! Now that is not typical of Americans, at least not in my experience. And my experience is substantial: I spent four and a half years in your country. Where? I worked in New York, and before that attended college in New Jersey. Yes, you are right: it was Princeton! Quite a guess, I must say.
What did I think of Princeton? Well, the answer to that question requires a story. When I first arrived, I looked around me at the Gothic buildingsyounger, I later learned, than many of the mosques of this city, but made through acid treatment and ingenious stonemasonry to look olderand thought, This is a dream come true. Princeton inspired in me the feeling that my life was a film in which I was the star and everything was possible. I have access to this beautiful campus, I thought, to professors who are titans in their fields and fellow students who are philosopher-kings in the making.
I was, I must admit, overly generous in my initial assumptions about the standard of the student body. They were almost all intelligent, and many were brilliant, but whereas I was one of only two Pakistanis in my entering classtwo from a population of over a hundred million souls, mind youthe Americans faced much less daunting odds in the selection process. A thousand of your compatriots were enrolled, five hundred times as many, even though your country’s population was only twice that of mine. As a result, the non-Americans among us tended on average to do better than the Americans, and in my case I reached my senior year without having received a single B.
Looking back now, I see the power of that system, pragmatic and effective, like so much else in America. We international students were sourced from around the globe, sifted not only by well-honed standardized tests but by painstakingly customized evaluationsinterviews, essays, recommendationsuntil the best and the brightest of us had been identified. I myself had among the top exam results in Pakistan and was besides a soccer player good enough to compete on the varsity team, which I did until I damaged my knee in my sophomore year. Students like me were given visas and scholarships, complete financial aid, mind you, and invited into the ranks of the meritocracy. In return, we were expected to contribute our talents to your society, the society we were joining. And for the most part, we were happy to do so. I certainly was, at least at first.
Every fall, Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters who came onto campus andas you say in Americashowed them some skin. The skin Princeton showed was good skin, of courseyoung, eloquent, and clever as can bebut even among all that skin, I knew in my senior year that I was something special. I was a perfect breast, if you willtan, succulent, seemingly defiant of gravityand I was confident of getting any job I wanted.
Except one: Underwood Samson & Company. You have not heard of them? They were a valuation firm. They told their clients how much businesses were worth, and they did so, it was said, with a precision that was uncanny. They were smalla boutique, really, employing a bare minimum of peopleand they paid well, offering the fresh graduate a base salary of over eighty thousand dollars. But more importantly, they gave one a robust set of skills and an exalted brand name, so exalted, in fact, that after two or three years there as an analyst, one was virtually guaranteed admission to Harvard Business School. Because of this, over a hundred members of the Princeton Class of 2001 sent their grades and résumés to Underwood Samson. Eight were selectednot for jobs, I should make clear, but for interviewsand one of them was me.
You seem worried. Do not be; this burly fellow is merely our waiter, and there is no need to reach under your jacket, I assume to grasp your wallet, as we will pay him later, when we are done. Would you prefer regular tea, with milk and sugar, or green tea, or perhaps their more fragrant specialty, Kashmiri tea? Excellent choice. I will have the same, and perhaps a plate of jalebis as well. There. He has gone. I must admit, he is a rather intimidating chap. But irreproachably polite: you would have been surprised by the sweetness of his speech, if only you understood Urdu. Where were we? Ah yes, Underwood Samson. On the day of my interview, I was uncharacteristically nervous. They had sent a single interviewer, and he received us in a room at the Nassau Inn, an ordinary room, mind you, not a suite; they knew we were sufficiently impressed already. When my turn came, I entered and found a man physically not unlike yourself; he, too, had the look of a seasoned army officer. “Changez?” he said, and I nodded, for that is indeed my name. “Come on in and take a seat.” His name was Jim, he told me, and I had precisely fifty minutes to convince him to offer me a job. “Sell yourself,” he said. “What makes you special?” I began with my transcript, pointing out that I was on track to graduate summa cum laude, that I had, as I have mentioned, yet to receive a single B. “I’m sure you’re smart,” he said, “but none of the people I’m talking to today has any Bs.” This, for me, was an unsettling revelation. I told him that I was tenacious, that after injuring my knee I had made it through physiotherapy in half the time the doctors expected, and while I could no longer play varsity soccer, I could once again run a mile in less than six minutes. “That’s good,” he said, and for the first time it seemed to me I had made something of an impression on him, when he added, “but what else?”
I fell silent. I am, as you can see, normally quite happy to chat, but in that moment I did not know what to say. I watched him watch me, trying to understand what he was looking for. He glanced down at my résumé, which was lying between us on the table, and then back up again. His eyes were cold, a pale blue, and judgmental, not in the way that word is normally used, but in the sense of being professionally appraising, like a jeweler’s when he inspects out of curiosity a diamond he intends neither to buy nor to sell. Finally, after some time had passedit could not have been more than a minute, but it felt longerhe said, “Tell me something. Where are you from?”
Copyright © 2007 by Mohsin Hamid
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