The blurb about The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid, sounded pretty interesting — a beared Pakistani man begins a conversation with an uneasy American man in Lahore, Pakistan. The way it’s written, it’s almost as if you you, the reader, are the uneasy American that he is speaking to. It’s told as a one-way conversation, and every now and then the narrator “responds” to a gesture by the listener and asks questions of his listener or otherwise changes the direction of his monologue.
The narrator tells his own story — a story of how he left Pakistan to attend Princeton and then took a job with a fancy firm in New York City, and then how events unfolded before and after September 11 that brought him back to the very spot he tells the story from. Hamid is a very good writer, and his storytelling, in this structure, borders on frighteningly polite. Our narrator speaks impeccable English and constructs flawless sentences, seemingly out of an urge to make the American listener comfortable through decorum. And as he recounts the events of his life, he touches on incendiary issues related to religion, culture, and politics, from multiple vantage points based on his then-current station in life and perspective.
I’ll confess to feeling uneasy throughout the book, which I suspect was exactly Hamid’s goal — to make the reader put himself in the position of looking at these times through the eyes of someone impacted differently by them. This is a well-crafted, riveting story that manipulates the reader in ways that few authors have the skill to do.