It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins.
Ever since the Oyster iPad app was released, it has been on my mind as something I would love to try. Who doesn't like a Netflix for books? The idea of being able to browse through a vast library and choosing any number of books to read at a time was enticing. So I signed up for their free trial and chose The Reluctant Fundamentalist as my first read. (I'll be sharing my views on the Oyster app itself this weekend, so I'll try not to bring it up much here.)
At a tea/coffee shop in Lahore, a Pakistani man has managed to invite a lost-looking American tourist to have tea and later dinner with him. Amidst all the atmospheric sights and sounds and flavors of Pakistan, the host talks about his past as an aspiring and promising student at Princeton and later at a job that is earned only by the best and how he came to be drinking tea that day at a Lahore cafe. At the time, he had everything - job, money, respect, even a girl that he was very interested in. And then came 9/11, which changed his life completely in ways he never imagined.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a very interesting read. It is written entirely as a dialogue, or rather as one side of a dialogue. Changez, the former successful Pakistani Princeton graduate, has found a sometimes interested, sometimes cautious audience in the American tourist. We never hear the tourist's voice directly - Changez occasionally reiterates the questions asked or statements made by the tourist, but barring that, it is Changez's voice from start to end. It's not a writing style that I could enjoy reading all the time, but for occasional books, it makes for a wonderful literary device. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is my first book in that writing style and I enjoyed it all the way to the last page.
There are several themes that recur through this book. At the core of it is about identity. Changez had everything going for him. He was even fairly confident about his chances with the woman of his dreams, who was still mourning the death of her boyfriend. But when 9/11 comes and the neighbor of his native country is implicated in it, he begins to get severely distressed by how close to home America's war on terror is happening. He becomes unable to separate his professional life from his tremulous inner life. The frequent disappearances of his love interest exacerbates his emotional tensions. He begins to feel almost rebellious, growing a beard and wearing his religion with excess pride.
In the course of his story, Changez also reveals some unpleasant aspects of his beliefs - some of which upset the American, and others which make him a tad bit nervous. There is a reason he is the reluctant fundamentalist. You begin to like this very human character and feel for him when he suffers, and right at that moment, he makes a comment that makes you bristle. I like how the author balanced that. The ending was very ambiguous, and to me the strength of this novel. Depending on how this book spoke to you, you would sketch your own ending. It also made the inner message of the book clear. Fundamentalist or not, every person had certain beliefs based on where his home is and how he grew up. It isn't easy for anyone to not side with his country, no matter why a war is happening. The absence of an ending did make me slightly annoyed - I got very invested in Changez's story and wanted to believe that he is happy but that's what the book was about - to know more about me as a person and how I approached other people like him. Would I outright brand him a potential terrorist or just a person very worried for his countrymen? I admit I fell in the middle - Changez made me uncomfortable occasionally but he also seemed like a reasonable person.
There are some aspects of the book that didn't quite make sense to me, such as what inspired Changez to spill out his story to the tourist. Also, not hearing the other side of the dialogue brings with it the occasional frustrations of not seeing the full picture. But they were minor complaints. The lyrical writing, the atmospheric descriptions, the intriguing story of Changez, who went from being successful to losing it all, the fast pacing, the clever narrative - all helped in keeping me very interested in this book. I loved The Reluctant Fundamentalist for the most part and it did leave me thinking for a long time about what makes a person willing to conduct terrorist crimes, and most importantly, what sort of person I was for making certain assumptions of Changez.
I read this ebook on Oyster.