I have read books which put you in the shoes of a character. I have read books that have had an outside view, narrating everything as if the narrator always soars above the characters involved. I’ve even read a book narrated by Death. I have never, however, read a book which literally tells its story to me.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, penned by Mohsin Hamid, is a novel in which the main character, a Pakistani who emigrated to America, recites his time in the US to you, supposedly an American. I say this, because the entire book is, essentially, a conversation in which a stranger sits down with you for tea, and narrates the story of his adult life (or, the answer to the question “what if Forrest Gump wrote a book?”. This is praise, seeing as Forrest Gump is one of my favourite movies). It isn’t even second person narration. It is strange, but it is rather beautiful in its originality.
For quite a long way through its engaging tale, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a book that doesn’t allow you to put it down. It’s a book that has the cultures and lifestyles of Pakistan and America collide, with a narrator at the height of his venturous phase in the middle of it.
It is a story, much like Forrest Gump (which I really should stop making comparisons to), which has major real world events shape its narrative, while essentially being the story of how a boy is unreasonably in love with a girl he cannot have.
In a way, it is a book that is both a love letter to, and a mirror held up against, America. It is the story of a Pakistani’s relationship with America, falling in love with its opportunity, diversity and a girl native to it, and not with what he saw post-9/11.
What this results in, even openly addressed in the book, is a book with some controversial viewpoints, and regardless of whether the writer himself expresses these views, the fact of the matter is that one way or the other, someone had to say what’s said in this book, for the sake of discourse, if for nothing else.
This was shaping up to the perfect book, in all its effortless beauty through its first two-thirds, but after that, it did, in a sense, fall from grace. It began to feel a little more robust, a little less easy to read. A free-flow to the end is what this book needed, but its momentary change of pace lost it some of its points.
Regardless, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an interesting and enticing read, certainly for anyone looking for a love story, or a slight political outcry, or fans of Forrest Gump.
On a scale where M is the lowest and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating: