Thursday, May 31, 2012

Focus On The Fundamentals: Mohsin Hamid

"The novel is a love song to America as much as it is a critique." ~ M. Hamid
Few things are as maddening as discovering that someone else has beaten you to it. It's happened to me. Mohsin Hamid wrote the novel I've been trying to write for years. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story of 9/11, one that straddles the fine line between love and hate with acute precision. It's a deceptively slim novel that takes place over a few hours at a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan as a charming, well-educated Pakistani in his late 20s recounts his life story to an unnamed American stranger, whose defining characteristics are fear and suspicion.

We learn that Changez (Urdu for "Genghis," French for "change") was educated at Princeton before settling in Manhattan to work for Underwood Samson, a Wall Street firm tasked with valuing the fundamentals of companies up on the chopping block. He's a stunning success, outperforming his peers and enjoying the high life complete with parties in the Hamptons reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. Elation is soon tempered when he falls for Erica (as in AmERICA), a young woman who is unable to return his affections due to her attachment to a past lover.

When 9/11 occurs, Changez is away in the Philippines on a business trip where he watches the events unfold on TV:
I stared as one - and then the other - of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.
A chilling admission for sure, but brutally honest nonetheless. From this moment, his brilliant career begins to stumble and after another business trip to Chile (the setting for a previous 9/11), he decides to move back to Pakistan. His love for the U.S. is transformed as he realizes the country's response to 9/11 is to retreat into a "dangerous nostalgia" filled with jingoistic sabre rattling.

Hamid's literary revenge is to silence the American's voice - his entire narrative is told in monologue from Changez's perspective. It's a brilliant book filled with subtlety and insight.

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