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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Cover

ISBN13: 9780151013043
ISBN10: 0151013047
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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1.

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 chest—the chest, I would say, of a man who bench-presses regularly, and maxes out well above two-twenty-five—are 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 Anarkali—named, as you may be aware, after a courtesan immured for loving a prince—and 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 buildings—younger, I later learned, than many of the mosques of this city, but made through acid treatment and ingenious stonemasonry to look older—and 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 class—two from a population of over a hundred million souls, mind you—the 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 countrys 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 evaluations—interviews, essays, recommendations—until 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 and—as you say in America—showed them some skin. The skin Princeton showed was good skin, of course—young, eloquent, and clever as can be—but even among all that skin, I knew in my senior year that I was something special. I was a perfect breast, if you will—tan, succulent, seemingly defiant of gravity—and 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 small—a boutique, really, employing a bare minimum of people—and 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 selected—not for jobs, I should make clear, but for interviews—and 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. “Im sure youre smart,” he said, “but none of the people Im 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. “Thats 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 jewelers when he inspects out of curiosity a diamond he intends neither to buy nor to sell. Finally, after some time had passed—it could not have been more than a minute, but it felt longer—he said, “Tell me something. Where are you from?”

Copyright © 2007 by Mohsin Hamid
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/ contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Marci San Francisco, November 7, 2013 (view all comments by Marci San Francisco)
Read this book. Read it if you already doubt the nature of American foreign policy in Asia. Read it especially if you cannot fathom why anyone would question the rightness of American foreign policy in Asia. Read it if you just want a fascinating read. Wonderful writing: articulate, intriguing, suspenseful. And amazingly brief for the punch it delivers.
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Grady Harp, June 8, 2007 (view all comments by Grady Harp)
A Brilliant Novel That Affords the Reader the Stance of an Outsider

Mohsin Hamid writes so well that were it not for the propulsive force of his quietly building suspense story, the reader would be tempted to linger over passages of elegantly beautiful prose. THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST is a timely book, yes, but it is far more: the novel underscores the talent of a superlative writer unafraid to place before the public a story that is bound to create a disturbing response at the end of the roller coaster ride.

Cleverly written as a monologue from a Pakistani young man named Changez (a name when pronounced delivers major clues to the story!) as he joins an American in a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan. The story reveals a young lad from a family once well to do in Pakistan, but fractured by the political changes suffered by that country, a lad who goes to America to attend Princeton University where he transforms himself into an 'American stance', performs exceedingly well academically, and joins the wealthy American classmates on jaunts where he encounters the beautiful but mysteriously aloof Erica. Changez and Erica become friends and were it not for Erica's recovering from a loss of her previous lover Chris who died of cancer, the two seem to be destined to become lovers. Erica is from a wealthy family who accepts Changez even more readily when upon graduation he is awarded a position with the prestigious firm Underwood Samson. Changez learns the feeling of the American preoccupation with success and wealth while still being committed to his family ties in Pakistan. While Changez is on a business trip to Manila he watches the 9/11 event and he is surprised that he feels a bit happy that haughty America is being brought to her feet.

Changez returns home finding his physical appearance now a cause for suspicion in the bruised country that afforded him success. He attempts to stay connected with Erica but Erica has retreated into her fragile state of melancholia and is eventually hospitalized. Changez continues his successful climb up the American dream ladder of success until he meets a gentleman Juan-Bautista in Chile who admonishes him that his devotion to his work for American companies might force him to forget the importance of home and family. Changez is changed and his decision regarding his employment, his lack of knowledge of Erica's whereabouts, and his growing anger at America preemptive attacks on countries near his home - all result in his returning to Pakistan, and the encounter with the American at the cafe. And Hamid leaves us there, afloat on a sea of questions and new information about the people we have been attacking and the result is a pungent experience in re-thinking the global atmosphere.

The book is relatively short (184 pages) and since it is written as one extended conversation, it is next to impossible not to read the entire book at one sitting: leaving the story even for a moment would be like leaving a personal encounter - rude. The story is superb, written with facile elegance, and contains views from outside our cloistered world that refreshingly informs us to re-examine our point of view. Highly Recommended on every level. Grady Harp
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780151013043
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Hamid, Mohsin
Author:
Mountford, Peter
Publisher:
Riverhead Hardcover
Subject:
General
Subject:
Self-perception
Subject:
Race discrimination
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Literary
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardback
Publication Date:
20130305
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
from 9
Language:
English
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Used Hardcover
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Product details 240 pages HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT - English 9780151013043 Reviews:
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "This novel's firm, steady, even beautiful voice proclaims the completeness of the soul when personal and global issues are conjoined."
"Review" by , "A superb cautionary tale, and a grim reminder of the continuing cost of ethnic profiling, miscommunication and confrontation."
"Synopsis" by ,
"Mr. Hamid reaffirms his place as one of his generation's most inventive and gifted writers." –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A globalized version of The Great Gatsby . . . [Hamid's] book is nearly that good." –Alan Cheuse, NPR

"Extraordinarily clever." –Ron Charles, The Washington Post

From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the boldly imagined tale of a poor boys quest for wealth and love . . .

His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the worlds pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation—and exceeds it. The astonishing and riveting tale of a mans journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

       How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hope it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.

"Synopsis" by ,

Now a major motion picture

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize

New York Times bestseller

“Extreme times call for extreme reactions, extreme writing. Hamid has done something extraordinary with this novel.” —Washington Post

“One of those achingly assured novels that makes you happy to be a reader.” —Junot Diaz

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter . . .

Changez is living an immigrants dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. 

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changezs own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

“Brief, charming, and quietly furious . . . a resounding success.” —Village Voice

A Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

A New York Times Notable Book

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