I just finished this book by Mohsin Hamid which is a quick read – 179 pages. Took me all of 2.5 hours to get through it.
I picked up the book because I had read Hamid’s reluctant fundamentalist and found it an interesting story which was well told.
This book, however, has left me unmoved and unaffected. The style and the structure of the novel is unique and also attention grabbing for a while but after that the novelty of the style fades as quickly as the strength of the story. It is a decent story, filled with predictable cliched descriptions of poor people living in horrible conditions, defecating openly, having sex when there is no privacy but it falls flat.
It falls flat in the end because there is no character development and there is no motivation or drive ascribed to the central character. We don’t know what fires him or gets him down, we do not know the intensity with which he loves. He is a passive figure and yet he is portrayed as the ambitious underdog who goes on to overachieve. Most of all, the title of the book is completely misguiding.
The language is good. Hamid has a flair for writing, there is no doubt about that but the structure and the storyline of the novel do not serve it very well. For the most part, it seemed to me like a half hearted effort.
I was so longing to read some contemporary socio-political fiction and this book came along. Just at the right time. It’s contemporary, it’s political and to some extent social and philosophical. I am happy that I read it. I truly am. I have also found that the book has been shortlisted for booker prize. It is semi-autobiographical.
The book is a page turner. You just can’t stop. It took me about 4 hours at max to finish and not once did I keep it. In some ways, you could recognize and understand the situations that he has described in the book, like the penchant for foreign education, the recruitment by “The Firm”, the lifestyle, the blinders that we wear and how the money is everything. It resonates with the reader and it intrigues and touches you just softly and hardly enough at the same time at the right level. There is no sense of preachiness yet you are being told something.
The language is simple, the structure understandable. If I think in terms of literary art, there is nothing that the author has done really. The english is tending more towards the British as is expected of Indian and Pakistani convent educated children. There are some gross omissions and assumptions politically ( like India and America were conniving to attack Pakistan while he fails to see why really!!! Also , that Afghanistan is a kin brother and India is not??? Why..both are neighbours after all. I seem to be getting too touchy here I guess.) There are also disturbing things like a narrow minded view of blaming a particular country for the plight ( which he is himself ashamed of – nobody makes him ashamed) of his own and ways of rebellion.
However,I am truly happy ( I restate) to have read this book because I am really curious to know how Pakistani intellectuals think about the current state of affairs and this book tells me that. To know what they think of America’s actions. I think this is one the major selling points of this book because a Muslim viewpoint has been largely missing and this book gives them one ( and sort of what they wanted ) even if inaccurate.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a straight forward thought presented to us in a straight froward way. The sarcasm is great at certain times and so is the sense of being a lagging third world country and the fury about it. I would say it’s very honest. It’s like a public baring of the soul.
A good read. Can be definitely read once. I am looking forward to reading “Moth Smoke” now by the same author. A critical analysis of the book can be found out at http://www.democratiya.com/review.asp?reviews_id=93