Fundamentally sound

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

By Mohsin Hamid

While many books have sought to dramatise the effect of the war on terror on people from ethnically Islamic backgrounds, few can be as fine as Hamid’s exquisite novella.

It may sound like a cliché but this story draws you in from page one. Hamid has adopted a delicately crafted first-and-second-person narrative perspective and employs it in such a way as to attract the reader into his deep story. As his central character, a middle-class Pakistani man who travels to the United States for an education and finds a career and love, narrates his own story he refers eloquently to “you”. It is a fine technique that has the reader guessing about the “you” until the very end.

Meanwhile, we learn how it feels to live and work in the United States with a Pakistani man’s skin. Hamid’s trick here is to tell less than what happened. With this subject matter, it would be so easy to describe in forensic detail the racism and prejudice (or not) the protagonist encounters. Hamid knows that this is not necessary. A few choice episodes and carefully worded dialogue are all he needs to build a theme. Hamid is a skilled writer: he can say more in ten words than others can in an entire chapter. A reader who is still learning to write could want nothing more.

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