Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Forty Six: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (and 46B: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan)

I first reviewed Hamid 10 weeks ago with his novel Moth Smoke, which I enjoyed. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a more recent work published in 2007 and his maturity shows. This is an outstanding, creatively imagined story which manages to give many of us non-Islamic folks a glimpse into what being Islamic in the U.S. must have been like after 9/11.

The story takes place in Pakistan (Lahore) as Changez, once a successful immigrant in the U.S., relates his story to an unnamed American. From a privileged, but poor family, Changez manages to get into Princeton and graduate with honors. He lands a highly sought after and highly paid position with a New York "valuation" firm which tells companies what they are worth. He loves New York, falls in love with an American woman, and has more money than he ever anticipated.

But after Sept. 11Changez not only finds himself being viewed differently, but begins to view himself differently as well. He suddenly decides to grow a beard which draws even more attention to himself and begins to question his role in the U.S. In the meantime, his relationship with the woman he loves changes for reasons not related to Sept. 11, but also makes him question some essential questions.

While the unnamed and unheard American in the cafe could be a mere foil, Hamid manages to create an interesting character we know only through the eyes of Changez. The American's own visit to Pakistan is questionable and Changez works hard to assure the man of his safety. By the end of the novel you are surprised to find yourself in a page-turning, suspense-filled plot (and I'm not giving away any endings).

Hamid's narrative is tight and well controlled. At times I questioned the strange romantic relationship, but at the end of the novel we see that it serves to show us another side of the U.S. and Changez's relationship to it. It also teaches about Changez as a person, although we can see how he may appear distant to others. His work at the "valuation" firm is a high stakes position in which his answers determine the fate of others. When this begins to bother him he is encouraged to separate himself from the results since anyone could produce them -- it is nothing personal and he does not make the decisions. But Changez recognizes his role in the process.

It is this role which we build out upon as Changez begins to see the role he plays in other areas of his life. What he recognizes is that passivity is not an option. To use the existentialist formula, "not to choose is to choose."  In other words, he moves from passivity to action which seems to surprise many, including himself. But is he really changing or simply becoming for himself? That is up to the reader to decide.

Regardless of the answer, Hamid's book is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand more of what is happening in the world today. There are no simple answers, but there is insight.

The Lightning Thief

Not a lot to say on this one. It is a YA (Young Adult) book and I've not read too many to compare this one to. At a glance it seems like Harry Potter, but with the Greek Myths in the U.S.. Young boy with special powers he was not aware he had, goes on a quest to essentially save the world along with another boy and a girl, and saves the world but gets a hint of something more sinister at work (here comes Kronos and the sequels).

But despite all that, I liked the book. My ten-year-old read it and wanted me to read it before we go see the movie version. He enjoyed it and it has sparked his interest in the Greek myths as well. Riordan has fun imagining the Greek gods and demigods into today's world (Mars is a motorcycle man) and he has a sense of humor. Worth reading if you like YA books.

Next Up
Not sure and I really should know by now. It has hit me that I have just six weeks left in my goal to read a book a week for a year, and I'm surprised how quickly it went. I had plans to read a bunch of classics, and while I've read many, I've also stretched my reading quite a bit. So I'm debating several books as I near the end of my quest, but relax when I remind myself that I'm still allowed to read after the year is up.

No comments:

Post a Comment