From Pakistan, Changez, the protagonist and narrator of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, moved to New York to study Finance at prestigious Princeton University. Changez’s affluent family was not spared from the hard times that swept Pakistan and his American education was due primarily to granted aid and loans. The combination of determination, focus, and regal bearing pushed Changez to graduate at the top of his class and be admitted at Underwood Samson, a respected firm that valuates companies.
While on a holiday in Greece, he met Erica, aspiring writer and fellow Princeton graduate. Changez was smitten but he soon realized that this shall be unrequited as Erica is yet to move on from a past relationship. During this time, America was brought to its knees with the attack on the twin towers. As an immigrant from the east, he was driven by circumstance and the survival instinct to embrace the capitalist mind set of the western world. But the intervening personal and global events became the counterpoints that pummeled Changez’s fundamentals, ultimately altering the course of his life.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an important novel. By telling a story from the perspective of Changez, the reader is given the opportunity to weigh how America the Goliath’s outrage had marginalized races that throughout history had resented the west’s intrusion to their sovereignty. Terrorism remains unacceptable and this novel does not justify the 9/11 attacks. Rather, Hamid urges the readers to dig deeper into long history of geographically concentrated conflicts and polarizing sentiments, which precipitated into the global turning point that was 9/11. Yes, America is the benevolent, but small, scattered wars continue to rage and minorities further stagnate as consequences of the alliances the international peacekeeper orchestrated.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is also graced with symbolisms pivotal in the novel’s themes. Erica may represent Changez’s own Pakistan-still hauntingly beautiful but suffering because of her inability to let go of the past. Changez may be America, a persona that has no distinct cultural identity yet great for his ability to reinvent and assert himself. And in the midst of Changez personal evolution, Hamid introduces Jim, senior and mentor at Underwood Samson. Jim is perhaps the personification of society’s fundamentals. Should Changez continue to be indoctrinated by America’s capitalist fundamentals or should he recklessly abandon his comforts to side with his nation in a war that might never be won?
Though The Reluctant Fundamentalist explores a heavy subject, Hamid’s narrative is never overbearing. His is a voice that evokes both resignation for the woman that he could never possess and silent rage for the utter hopelessness of his nation. The Reluctant Fundamentalist deserves high honors in world literature. So long as wars are fought and borders are invaded, this novel will be classic.