“I was, in four and a half years, never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker.” But Changez’ perfect New York world came crumbling all around him in the aftermath of 26/11. Not because of the often clichéd targeting of the Asian Muslims in America, but because of the demons brewing up inside his own head. “I was a modern-day janissary,” he says, “a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine.”
The story unfolds as the protagonist meets an American stranger at Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore. He engages him in conversation, which is a cleverly written monologue of his understanding, love and the subsequent loathing of America. The excessively vocal Changez comes across as a person to be vary of, while the silent American seems to be unwillingly drawn up into the conversation. But here again Mohsin strays away from clichés as we realise that the real fundamentalist is not the long bearded Pakistani from Lahore, but the suited and sophisticated capitalist from America.
While talking to the American, Changez reveals his past of an $ 80000 a year earning, Princeton pass out working at Samson Underwood. The story meanders through his romance with Erica, the daughter of a New York Investment banker. The love story, though endearing, is entirely irrelevant to the real purpose of the book, but even here, Mohsin skirts away from the usual Anti-Asian tone that a cross cultural romance in the shadow of 26/11 supposed to have.
Changez’ reluctant fundamentalism comes to fore when on a trip to Manila, he hears about the 26/11 terrorist attack and can’t help feeling elated at the fact that someone had the courage and wisdom to strike at the US. Though, the transformation of the protagonist from a hardworking evaluator to a reluctant fundamentalist is not entirely clear, the writer tries to unsuccessfully attribute it to Changez being mistaken for an American oppressor by the workers at the firm in Manila.
Changez’ disenchantment, though not very well depicted, is not hard to understand. His hate of America is not a result of any high Islamic values, but of entirely his own patriotism coming to fore. His return from Pakistan with a beard and his botched up assignment in Peru are just mere physical manifestations of what he always in him; a Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Mohsin Hamid has written a good book, but with topic as relevant and fresh as this one, better things could have been done. Thus a book that could have been an epic, remains at the most a good read. In a terse and engaging language, Mohsin shows the Americans how they look in the eyes of the rest of the world. The Anti-India undertone in the book is hard to miss, but that was expected from a book written by a contemporary Pakistani author. But what worried me most after I read the book was that if a man who had so much going for him, is ready to give it all up for fundamentalism, albeit reluctantly, then what would a man who has nothing, not even education, be ready to give up.
A Review By Varun Saini, PGP 2011