Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A year in Books 2011- The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Some books are in Waterstone's 3 for 2 so often that in the end I just give up and buy them . The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid is one of them and having read it in one sitting I'm annoyed with myself for not getting it earlier.

The book starts with an introduction "Excuse me sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I alarmed you. Do not be frightened of my beard. I am a lover of America."

The native Pakistani narrator over the next 208 pages tells his life story of how he first came to embrace America through education at Princeton and the promise of capitalism only to become disillusioned, feeling betrayed and rejecting the American dream. At the core of his tale is the narrator's love for an American woman who lost in the grief of a previous relationship can not fully return that love and whose grief takes her physically and emotionally out of reach.

As the sky darkens the meeting of the narrator and the listener starts to appear not so coincidental. As the narrator punctuates his story by bringing them back to the hear and now, Hamid create a building sense of tension with the ambiguity of the comments. Is it simply a local having a meal with a visiting business man or is it more like the hunter and the hunted.

"I observe sir that there continues to be something about our waiter that puts you ill at ease .... and if you should sense that he has taken a disliking to you, i would ask you to be so kind as to ignore it"

but which is which if at all

"When you sit in that fashion sir with your arm curved around the back of an empty chair beside you , a bulge manifests itself through the lightweight fabric of your suit..........I'm sure in your case it is just the outline of one of those travel wallets.."

The tension builds and builds as the narrator's tale switches from the US back to the recent past in Pakistan until an almost unbearable walk back to the business man's hotel.

Relying on one voice is risky and Hamid needed to get the narrator exactly right, if his story didn't feel genuine then the tension would be punctured. The tone is spot on and apart from a couple of clunky paragraphs his voice sucks you in.

The ending without giving anything away may frustrate some but for me it fits perfectly with story as a whole. At just over 200 pages it is a quick read made even more so by the need to find out how it will all pan out. If you have long train journey coming up or a spare evening with some wine on hand then this is perfect but be warned you will want to finish it in one sitting.

You can buy The Reluctant Fundamentalist here

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