Tuesday, August 28, 2007

up close and personal

Mohsin Hamid adopts a distinctive tone for The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Over a number of hours Changez sits at a café table in Lahore speaking to an unnamed American. Through the course of his confessional monologue we learn of his experiences in America before and after the pivotal 9/11 attacks.

I dislike first person narration as I don’t like to be forced into someone elses shoes - and the shoes don’t get much tighter than this. But despite my reservations I am drawn in. What starts as discomfort and a desire to tear myself away becomes a compulsion, a need to stick this out to see how it ends.

Within the novels limited length Hamid gives us tasters without fully heaping our plate. The American is never given voice, we can only imagine what he has said based on Changez reactions, but the American still manages to annoy with his constant jumping, complaining and suspicions.

Some of the warmest sections of the novel are when we are shown interactions between individuals as opposed to nations, between men and women, between Changez and Erica -

‘I had begun to understand that she has chosen not to be part of my story; her own had proven too compelling, and she was - at that moment and in her own way - following it to its conclusion, passing through places I could not reach.’

Another theme that Hamid skilfully threads throughout is the role of film. On his arrival Changez uses knowledge of American films as a currency to buy his way into social acceptance, sharing exchanges of Top Gun dialogue at a job induction. But film later takes on a negative role when the collapse of the World Trade towers appears to be almost unreal, and when America goes to war Changez again observes how they act as if in a film.

Changez disappointment and animosity towards the United States builds steadily throughout by which time he has provided ample evidence to support his change of heart. But it is only near the very end that he distils this evidence into one clear statement of accusation, still delivered in measured, calm eloquence.

‘As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums…’

With this neat little novel Hamid has sat us down at his table and told a warm but sad tale of isolation, of people reaching out and failing to find someone willing to grasp their hand, of a country willing to greet when it suits but quick to turn its back when it doesn’t. Hamid has kept to his chosen path throughout and has not allowed himself to get carried away or side-tracked, but I doubt I would have chosen to walk his way if not for the Booker longlist.

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

Wow, you are moving right along. I wonder how books make it onto the longlist?