Thursday, 29 October 2009

Reluctant Fundamentalist (Hamid)

It's very rare that a student or member of staff will request a fiction book in the library, so I was intrigued when someone put in a request for The reluctant fundamentalist by Hamid. Having read the back of it whilst cataloguing it, I sneakily took it home overnight to have a read myself (I wasn't sure if the requester might be a slow reader or not!). I was gripped: the remainder of the evening saw me cooking dinner with the book in hand, reading it whilst eating, and leaving the washing up until it was finished (the last sounds acceptable but it isn't really to me!).

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2007, this has been out a while, and probably read and reviewed by many. It tells the tale of Changez, a Pakistan-born Princeton graduate who is now working for a big business firm, Underwood Samson as a financial analyst in a position referred to as a "fundamentalist" - i.e. he tries to cut the businesses he deals with down to their "fundamentals" to make them more efficient and successful. However, this term is also used to later refer to his beliefs. The story jumps around somewhat, but we learn about Changez's childhood, his struggles to fit into life in America and an ill-fated love affair with an American girl named Erica who is still in love with her former partner. Of course 9/11 happens and this has a strong influence on his life in America; he realises that he will always feel alienated there however much he tries to fit it.

What makes the book so gripping is the way in which the story is told. You, the reader, are an active participant as the book takes the form of a monologue from Changez in a restaurant in Lahore, where you are dining together. You are an American, but it is not clear whether you are tourist, businessman or intelligence agent.

The only thing that let the book down in my opinion was the ending. Having read avidly through to find out what happens at the end, nothing actually did. The book quite literally came to a full stop. I guess that Hamid wanted you to make your own mind about how the story ended, but having been gripped all along, I felt that this was a bit of a cop-out. It doesn't stop me from recommending what was a very different read to some of the books that I normally encounter.


  1. I will be taking note of this to read at some point; the description of the narrative style sold me on it. For some reason this didn't appeal when I noticed it in a few bookshops; I think I was put off by the uninspiring cover.

  2. I loved this book. Initially I was disappointed by the ending, but after having time to think about it I realise how clever this book is. I don't want to give anything away in the comments section, but what you think happens in the ending is a reflection of your prejudices. I admit that I assumed one thing happended, but it could easily have been the other way round. Do you understand what I mean? The author words it very cleverly and I was impressed.

  3. Claire - yes, it's not a hugely good cover is it? It makes it look a bit cheap and unliterary. Maybe there will be second hand copies around.

    Jackie - I think you are right about the ending being clever - I've been thinking about it since I finished it, and I think you have summed it up nicely. I am quite sure my interpretation reflected my own prejudices.

  4. I love books that have you stirring a pot with one hand and holding your book with the other.

  5. Darlene - I'm often getting food on myself when reading books, particularly at lunchtime - the little pot of soy sauce that comes with sushi is a real killer :(

  6. Read this book a couple of years back, and absolutely loved it, despite the fact that it freaked me out a little ... specially his reaction to 9/11.

    The ending didn't disappoint me that much, to be honest. In fact, agree with Jackie about it being a clever ending.


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