Thursday, August 14, 2008


On the next to last page of Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez, the Pakistani Princeton-educated narrator, says, "I have felt rather like a Kurtz waiting for his Marlowe." This allusion to Heart of Darkness is very illuminating, as Hamid's book bears several similarities to Conrad's novel. First, the narrator is telling his story to an unidentified stranger, although in this case the narrator is the Kurtz-like character. More telling, though, is the fact that Changez's story is that of a star team player run amok. The revelation at the end will tell you who is the Marlowe character and will make you want to reread the novel. The title is a little puzzling, since Changez is encouraged in his New York job to focus on fundamentals. He is, however, never reluctant in that regard. He is either totally gung-ho or totally apathetic. I think he is "reluctant" to abandon his American lifestyle to re-engage with his "fundamental" Pakistani roots, but 9/11 and the U.S. response to that tragedy have a sudden and jarring impact on his perspective. I'm not sure, either, what purpose his girlfriend Erica serves, as she loses her own way in her grief for a lost love. Perhaps she is a metaphor for the U.S. in its post-9/11 grief, but my biggest complaint about the book is that no clear explanation is given for Changez's obsession with her. I suppose that he just longs for something he can never have, just as he can never fully blend in with lighter-skinned Americans. All symbolism aside, the rhythm of the prose somehow evokes the narrator's heritage and builds suspense, right up until the last sentence. There is also some clever wordplay that made me smile, such as "Maximum return was the maxim to which we returned, time and again."

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