Monday, May 06, 2013

Reflections: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Everyone’s been talking about this book and movie lately. And of course, the timing of everything. Yeah, timing is something, because I came across this book a few weeks ago by chance, and after reading the first page, I checked it out, came home and read it all in one sitting. It is that much of an intense and interesting book. Only later did I realize that it was soon coming out (well it has come out as I type) as a movie, adapted and directed by Mira Nair. Coincidence, really. Timing again.

Since everyone’s been talking about this book/movie, dissecting and articulating all the powerful themes questions, I am now at a loss for words Everything has already been said. Anything I say now is going to seem paraphrased, regurgitated from captions and headlines. So, keeping aside the themes, here are some thoughts about the book itself. It is beautifully and intelligently written. Its narrative structure is extremely unique and very well handled.

At a quaint cafe in Lahore, Changez, a smart Pakistani, strikes up a conversation with a mysterious American man about his life and experiences in America. Actually, it is much less of a conversation and more of a monologue, especially how the narrative is, but despite it being so, it is one of the best monologue-esque narrative pieces I have read. It is crisply written with wry humor, sarcasm, intelligence, and eloquence. The American on the other side is never described, only implied. Yet, his character assumes a definitive personality - perhaps tinged with some generalization, but vivid and realistic for the reader to place him. The subject of torn identity/loyalty between one’s country of origin and the country of promise & opportunities is at the core of the book, but that’s not all there is to it. And thankfully, the story doesn’t take us down trite and beaten paths on which several books and movies have ventured. It explores the complicated net of issues surrounding identity, racism, patriotism, capitalism, and fundamentalism as perceived by a Pakistani Muslim post the pivotal turning point of 9/11. The author compellingly drives home the point that anything in its fundamentally extreme state is unfair and dangerous - be it religion or capitalism.

The story moves at a taut and gripping pace. Almost all of us can relate to Changez’s angst, regardless of where we come from. It raises all the hairy and complicated questions that we try to evade and ignore as we go through life just focusing on our little bubble and making sure it stays afloat. But when our bubble gets pricked or comes dangerously close to being destroyed by political forces beyond us, it’s only then do we pause to confront and deal with the difficult questions. According to me, these political questions are far more relevant and thorny than just the socio-cultural dilemmas frequently discussed in this genre.

The ending is ambiguous, yes, but it fits in line with the book’s character. The few characters, and the minimal number of words and pages belie the impact of this book. It’s a very interesting read that I recommend. 


Karthik said...

Sounds like a very interesting book! I just read the last few posts on your views on all those books, and enjoyed them :-) Also, the simple page layout is nice !

Neeraja said...

I think you'll like this book Karthik. Give it a try sometime - it's short too. Thanks for reading the previous posts and for noticing and commenting on the changed layout :).

Anne John said...

I also read this book a couple of months back - without knowing anything about a movie being made. I too liked it - it is short, crisp and quite well-written.