The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Reluctant Fundamentalist.JPG
First edition (UK)
Author Mohsin Hamid
Publisher Hamish Hamilton (United Kingdom)
Harcourt (United States)
Oxford University Press (Pakistan)
Publication date
1 March 2007
Pages 224
ISBN 0-241-14365-9

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, published in 2007.

The novel uses the technique of a frame story, which takes place during the course of a single evening in an outdoor Lahore cafe, where a bearded Pakistani man called Changez (the Urdu name for Genghis) tells a nervous American stranger about his love affair with an American woman, and his eventual abandonment of America. A short story adapted from the novel, called "Focus on the Fundamentals," appeared in the fall 2006 issue of The Paris Review. A film adaptation of the novel by director Mira Nair premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.[1]

Synopsis[edit]

Changez is an excellent student who completes his Bachelors degree in Finance from Princeton University and joins Underwood Samson, a consultancy firm, as an analyst. He vacations in Greece, after graduating from Princeton with fellow Princetonians, where he meets Erica, who is an aspiring writer. He is instantly smitten by her, but his feelings remain almost unrequited because she is still grieving over the death of her childhood sweetheart Chris, who succumbed to lung cancer. After a date, they return to his place and he proceeds to have sex with her, but stops because of her frigidity and inability to get excited. After this incident there is an interlude where neither contact each other. But soon they go on another date, after which they have sex when Changez convinces Erica to close her eyes and fantasize that she is with Chris. Though Changez is satisfied at this development in their relationship, this irreversibly damages their relationship. Soon she gets herself admitted to a mental institution. He notices she is physically emaciated and no longer her former self. After this meeting he travels to Chile on an assignment. When he returns to meet her, it is found that she has left the institution and her clothes were found near the Hudson river. Officially she is stated as a missing person, as her body has not been found.

In his professional life, he impresses his peers and gets earmarked by his superiors for his work, especially Jim, the person who recruited him, develops a good rapport with him, and holds him in high esteem. This prompts the firm to send him to offshore assignments in the Philippines and Valparaíso, Chile. In Chile, he is very distracted due to developments in the world and, responding to the parabolic suggestion of the publisher his company is there to assess, he comes to see himself as a servant of the American empire that has constantly interfered with and manipulated his homeland. He returns from Chile to New York without completing the assignment and ends up losing his job.

In the global scenario, after the September 11th attacks, there is an air of suspicion towards Pakistanis. Changez, due to his privileged position in society, is not among those detained or otherwise abused, but he notices a change in his treatment in public. To express solidarity with his countrymen after his trip to Chile, he starts to grow a beard. After the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, India and Pakistan mobilize leading to a standoff. Noticing the American response to this situation, he has an epiphany that his country is being used as a pawn. With no job, an expiring visa and no reason to stay in America, he moves back to Lahore.

After returning to Lahore, he becomes a professor of finance at the local university. His experience and insight in world issues gains his admiration among students. As a result he becomes a mentor to large groups of students on various issues. He and his students actively participate in demonstrations against policies that were detrimental to the sovereignty of Pakistan. Changez advocates nonviolence, but a relatively unknown student gets apprehended for an assassination attempt on an American representative, which brings the spotlight on Changez. In a widely televised interview, he strongly criticizes the militarism of U.S. foreign policy. This act makes people surrounding him think that someone might be sent to intimidate him or worse.

He keeps noting that the stranger is very apprehensive of their surroundings and he walks the stranger to his hotel where the stranger reaches into his pocket for something which has a metal glint. The narrator trusts it is his holder of business cards. But the novel ends without revealing what the metal thing was, leaving the reader to wonder if the stranger was there to kill Changez, or if the waiter from the restaurant is there to collude in an attack (and, if so, on whom).

Style[edit]

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an example of a dramatic monologue. M. H. Abrams, an important American literary critic provides the following definition of dramatic monologue: What is called a dramatic monologue is not an element in a play, but a type of lyric poem that was perfected by Robert Browning. In its fullest form, as represented in Browning's "My Last Duchess," "The Bishop Orders His Tomb," "Andrea del Sarto," and many other poems, the dramatic monologue has the following features;

1. A single person, who is patently not the poet, utters the entire poem in a specific situation at a critical moment

2. This person addresses and interacts with one or more other people; but we know of the auditor's presence and what they say and do only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker.

3. The principle controlling the poet's selection and organization of what the lyric speaker says is the speaker's unintentional revelation of his or her temperament and character.[2]

In The Reluctant Fundamentalist the dramatic monologue is conducted by Changez, who starts his conversation addressing to his listener in a street in the centre of Lahore: "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. (…) 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."

Changez thus starts to tell the story of a period of his life far away in time, when, after graduating at Princeton, he was working as a financial counsellor for an important company in New York. The formality of Changez' first approach to his interlocutor gives already that sense of ambiguity and distrust which is a recurrent theme in the whole novel. The reader is not encouraged to completely trust the main character, he does not understand his real intentions, he does not know if the meeting happened by chance or it was planned by Changez or the mysterious tourist. Hamid uses his skills to instil in the reader's mind that doubt that leads him into imagining different scenarios, some of which would transform the novel into an actual thriller. A perfect example of this procedure is the way in which Changez describes his interlocutor; if at the beginning he is just a tourist, after a few lines he becomes a man on a mission and later the use of a satellite phone and the possibility that he may be carrying a gun are pointed out. The form of the dramatic monologue is effective in creating a frame of mystery and tension, in which the reader feels to get deeper and deeper as he goes on reading. The novel takes the shape of a fake dialogue with an interlocutor that stays silent till the end and that creates an atmosphere of suspense that keeps the reader in a state of high tension. The reader, without a context to take as reference,is obliged to create a personal vision of what is happening. The ability of the author lays in the fact that he never denies any of the possible solutions, so that the reader is completely free to design his own explanation, according to his personal inclinations and world vision. Author and reader are not sender and receiver of a message but players in a game. The narrator becomes an intermediary that leads the reader in the story which respects a realistic purpose but wants to remind us that art is above all artifice. The game in which Changez drags the readers goes on until the end, when the story is abruptly suspended, at the peak of tension, in a moment when even an act of violence seems luckily to occur. But as in "One thousands and one nights", art has the power to suspend any violence. Until the novel hasn't finished no violence can occur and the reader is thus left in doubt,left alone to find his way in a house of mirrors full of stereotypes that represents well the modern world. Changez' voice is that of an homodiegetic narrator, he tells a story in which he plays a vital role, the narrator and main character are the same person and the narrator presents the facts and the other characters through his point of view. But Changez never completely convinces the reader, who always holds the sensation that everything is deformed by Changez' perspectives. Changez is a talented speaker. His voice is sometimes kind and polite, sometimes confidential and sometimes filled with tension and dignity. In some points it is clear that the formality and the archaisms of his language are the mark of his distance, of his suspect and mockery towards his listener. Mohsin Hamid chooses an unreliable narrator, who represents one of the theme of the novel: the inevitable distance between appearance and reality and the way in which reality is distorted or hidden even without a specific intent from the part of the speaker. Two meanings of the word "formal" are considered. The former refers to the way in which something spontaneous as language is filled by Changez of ornaments till the point of becoming an element of disorientation. The latter is about Hamid's work on the genre of the novel: "with its unique tensions, restrictions and essential playfulness. The pressures and deflections of the form allow Hamid to visit the various genres that are common to South Asian anglophone writing, which are often connected with the revelation of identity – autobiography; travelogue; the novel of diaspora or exile – and to commit himself to none of these" [3]

The Reluctant Fundamentalist does have autobiographical insights, sometimes looks as a travel guide, but also tells of a mysterious and dramatic experience.

Awards and nominations[edit]

The novel was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize.[4] It also won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award,[5] the South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature,[6] and several other awards. The Guardian selected it as one of the books that defined the decade.[7]

Commercial reception[edit]

The novel became a million-copy international best-seller.[8] It reached #4 on the New York Times Best Seller list.[9] BBC Radio 4 began broadcasting an abridged version on 22 August 2011, read by British actor Riz Ahmed.[10]

Academic reception[edit]

In 2007, Davidson College assigned this book to all incoming Freshman as a topic for later discussion during Freshman Orientation. This book kicked off the theme of the school's 2007-08 year, which focused on diversity. In 2008, Tulane University gave the novel to all new undergraduates as part of the Tulane University Reading Project.[11] In 2009, the University of St Andrews announced that they would be sending a free copy of The Reluctant Fundamentalist to all of 1,500 new undergraduates as part of a new incentive to "offer students a common topic for discussion and focus energies on reading and intellectual debate".[12] In 2010, Washington University in St. Louis also gave the book to each of its incoming freshmen, as a part of the "Freshmen Reading Program."[13] Georgetown University also chose this book for incoming freshman's summer reading. Ursinus College has also incorporated the novel into their unique Common Intellectual Experience for freshmen students. Additionally, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas uses the book in all honors rhetoric classes for first-year students. Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and Siena College in Loudonville, New York also use the novel as an introduction to their First Year Seminar programs. Lehigh University assigned all incoming freshman this novel in 2012. Also, just this year, Rollins College, assigned this novel to their incoming freshmen as part of their summer reading program. The University of Evansville in Indiana uses the novel as a tool in the freshman First Year Seminar program as well. This program has the purpose of engaging incoming first-year students to topics of leadership and citizenship. Bucknell University chose it for the first year common reading for the Class of 2018.

Film adaptation[edit]

A film directed by Mira Nair, based on the book, premiered in 2012.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "'The Reluctant Fundamentalist Opens Venice Film Festival'". Screen. 30 August 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  2. ^ M. H. Abrams, gen. Ed. “Dramatic Monologue”. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 8th ed. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005. pp. 70-71.
  3. ^ Chaudhuri, Amit, Not Entirely Like Me, The London Review of Books, October 4, 2007
  4. ^ Man Booker Prize - Prize Archive (2007)
  5. ^ Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards - 73rd annual winners announced
  6. ^ Mohsin Hamid wins 2008 South Bank Show Award
  7. ^ Guardian Books of the Noughties
  8. ^ "Taking a hermit to a party and letting him dance" Dawn
  9. ^ The New York Times Best Seller List (29 April 2007)
  10. ^ BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime 22 April 2011
  11. ^ "Tulane University Reading Project", Tulane Official Website, 28/09/2009
  12. ^ "St Andrews' Booker Prize Project", St Andrews Official Website, 01/06/2009
  13. ^ "Washington University Freshmen Reading Program"

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