Title: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Rating: 4 / 5
After finishing Rules of Civility, I kind of had a hard time finding the next book that I was sufficiently drawn to. There were actually two I wanted to read next, but neither library in town had them so I put in my interlibrary loan request, but those can take a while. I figured this one, which had been on my radar for a while and was surfacing around the internet lately, would be a good one to read since it’s so short–less than 200 pages, and in the hardback copy from my library, it’s quite a pretty small format book with relatively large text. I didn’t realize until after I’d read some of it that the author is the same one who wrote How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, which is a book I liked.
I didn’t like this one quite as much, but I do feel like it was trying to “say” more. Like How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, which was told in the second person, this one played with unusual conceit in the narration: it is pretty much a first person narrator, but it’s written as if it’s a story told orally to an American in Pakistan whose identity we basically know nothing about it. The effect this creates is a sort of stream-of-consciousness quality as the narrator–a Pakistani man–relates the story of how he moved to the US when he was 18 to attend Princeton before quickly becoming disillusioned with his finance-sector job and ultimately wound up back in Pakistan.
Despite “fundamentalist” featuring in the title, and the crescent & moon symbol of Islam, this book doesn’t really seem to be about religion. Throughout the narrator’s story, he seems to be quite a tepid Muslim, rather than a fundamentalist one, as almost no mention is made of his faith at all, and indeed the title is a reference to his financial firm’s emphasis on the “fundamentals.”
It’s an interesting and thought-provoking story with a solid open ending. I also liked the ambiguity of the narrator–was he unreliable? Or not? I can see why, despite being 10 years old, it’s making the rounds in lots of recent book lists. Some of it seems written for the current moment: “I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back… What your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me–a time of unquestioned dominance? of safety? of moral certainty?”
If you’re interested in it, I would give it a shot–after all, it’s so short that I read it in an afternoon.