Synopses & Reviews
From the author of the award-winning Moth Smoke
comes a perspective on love, prejudice, and the war on terror that has never been seen in North American literature.
At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with a suspicious, and possibly armed, American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting. . .
Changez is living an immigrants dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by Underwood Samson, an elite firm that specializes in the “valuation” of companies ripe for acquisition. He thrives on the energy of New York and the intensity of his work, and his infatuation with regal Erica promises entrée into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.
For a time, it seems as though nothing will stand in the way of Changezs meteoric rise to personal and professional success. But in the wake of September 11, he finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changezs own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and perhaps even love.
Elegant and compelling, Mohsin Hamids second novel is a devastating exploration of our divided and yet ultimately indivisible world.
“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 as a bridge.”
—from The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The New York Times
bestselling novel, Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Funamentalist
is brilliant and powerful, and now a major motion picture!
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the story of Changez, a young, Princeton-educated Pakistani who goes on to work at a prestigious financial analysis firm in New York City and falls in love with a woman from the upper echelons of New York society. He seems to have achieved the American dream--until 9/11 devastates the city. As the woman and city he loves suffer from new wounds and old scars, Changez finds that his place in society had shifted. With the world seemingly crumbling in front of him, Changez must decide where his true loyalties lie--with his adopted country or his homeland.
About the Author
Mohsin Hamid grew up in Lahore, attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School and worked for several years as a management consultant in New York. His first novel, Moth Smoke, was published in ten languages and was a winner of a Betty Trask award, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His essays and journalism have appeared in Time, The New York Times and The Guardian, among others. Mohsin Hamid currently lives, works and writes in London.
Reading Group Guide
1. The speech of the narrator, Changez, is rendered in a very literary, formal style. Why does the author choose to do this? How would it have affected your impression of the book if Changezs speech had been reported in a more naturally conversational way?
2. Does the fact that we hear none of the Americans speech lead you to identify with him as the listener? Or does it suggest the American is hiding something?
3. None of the names - from Underwood Samson to Erica to the Pearl Continental hotel - has been chosen casually. How conscious were you of their significance as you read the story?
4. At the foot of page 45, Changez remarks: “Yes, we have acquired a certain familiarity with the recent history of our surroundings, and that - in my humble opinion - allows us to put the present into much better perspective.” How significant is this comment?
5. What devices and allusions does the author use to create a sense of increasing danger?
6. How important to the novel is Changezs relationship with Erica?
7. On page 114, Changez says: “I did not know whether I believed in the truth of their [Erica and Chriss] love; it was, after all, a religion that would not accept me as a convert.” Why does he express himself in these terms?
8. Does it seem logical to you that Changez abandons his career?
9. Do you think Changez tells the whole truth to the American?
10. What is about to happen at the end of the book?
1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?
I was the kind of kid who could play alone for hours, imagining that the lawn was an ocean and fallen leaves were the fins of sharks. I always liked telling and hearing stories. But I never thought I would be a writer until I went to college in the US. I took a creative writing course and discovered I loved writing fiction. It was a way to travel back to Pakistan in my mind while physically being far away. I wrote the first draft of my first novel, Moth Smoke, in a class taught by Toni Morrison in my senior year, and I never looked back.
2) What inspired you to write this book?
It is about tensions that I have felt personally and that have reshaped my world. As someone who has lived most of his life in either Pakistan or America and has strong emotional connections to both places, the events of 9/11 and the subsequent conflict and suspicion have affected in me in very real ways. My world is now much more divided than it was before. This novel is my attempt to examine that landscape.
3) There is very little explicit religion in the book – why is that, when so many readers will think it is crucial to the tensions you explore?
I think people too often confuse politics with spirituality. I didn’t want to write a novel about Islam as a belief system. I wanted to write about a young man who happens to be Muslim and for whom a sense of Muslim identity becomes important because he lives in a time of political conflict.
4) You set up a complex and dense pattern of allegory and references, especially in the naming of characters. Did the reviewers pick up on this?
Several of them did. But I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into the naming of the characters. Yes, the names carry certain resonances, but the characters function more importantly as people rather than as allegories.
5) Did any reviewers or interviewers identify aspects of the book that were unconscious or unintended?
Absolutely. As a writer, I have learned quite a bit from reviewers and interviewers. But it is important to remember that there is no difference between a reviewer or interviewer and any other reader. In the end, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and each opinion is the view of one person. I have learned just as much from readers who were not reviewers or interviewers.
6) The way you bring in and develop themes – the idea of prey, for example, or of poison – is very musical. And the gradual addition of detail to intensify the atmosphere has both painterly and theatrical qualities. Do you have a keen interest in arts other than literature?
I do. I definitely look to music, the visual arts, and cinema for inspiration. Often I feel a stronger desire to write after hearing a song or seeing an exhibition at a gallery than I do after reading a novel. I tend to be engaged with cadence, with the sound of my prose. And I also tend to think of my writing in visual terms, like the structure of a building.
7) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?
So many! Among American writers, I look to people like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and James Baldwin. Among Europeans, I admire writers such as Camus, Calvino, and Nabokov. Manto is probably my favorite Pakistani writer. I was taught by Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates, so both of them have influenced me directly. And there are dozens of others: Borges, Ishiguro, Murakami, Tolstoy, to name a few.
8) The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a scary book – do you worry it might make some readers fearful of Muslims? Or that they might think you and Changez are the same person?
I think the book reflects back what the reader brings to it. If you say it is scary, I would suggest that is because you were scared before you even began to read. The novel tries to engage the reader in a dialogue, and to show that we each manufacture our own fears, at least in part. As for me being Changez, I would say I’m no more him than I am Erica or Jim.
9) What state of mind do you hope to leave your readers in?
Thoughtful. I think part of my job as a story-teller is to entertain, to grip a reader, and to give them a narrative that is a pleasure to follow. But when it is over, I would hope that a reader might sit back and be provoked to think.