The Reluctant Fundamentalist is one of the most unique and most interesting books that I have read in quite a while. But, it was also a quick and imminently readable book. It is the kind of story that would be great to use in a classroom because most students would be able to read it without too much foreknowledge. Plus, there is an incredible story and a lot of important historical and political issues which are uncovered in the course of the story.
The story is written as a one-sided dialogue between Changez, the main character, and an unknown American traveler. Throughout the story, the reader learns a far amount of both Changez and his audience of one. But, the book is written as unending dialogue, the reader never hearing the words or thoughts of the American. The style is unique but extremely effective in this story. It allows the reader to put themselves in the place of the American.
Changez is a Pakistani who receives his education at Princeton, falls in love, gets a high-powered job in New York City, and then watches the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Subsequently, he struggles with his position as a foreigner in the United States.
Although I have read a few books about Middle Easterners dealing with post-9/11 America, this is the first book that I have read (probably ever) about a Pakistani. Hamid's political insight into the American government and his description of Pakistan sitting precariously between Afghanistan and India has caused me to wonder more about this nation's history and place today.
Reluctant Fundamentalist has received a fair amount of critical appraisal and was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize. However, the topic has, not unsurprisingly, caused a certain amount of consternation. Those who suggest that the book is anti-American, or a hate speech against the American government have obviously not understood Hamid's message. There are some negative statements about the United States in the book. But many Americans would be as willing to make similar statements. Just because the author has an Islamic background doesn't mean that he has greater hatred towards the American government's choices in the past seven years.
I would heartily recommend The Reluctant Fundamentalist to anyone, as long as they are willing to read it with an open mind. If they want to find anti-Americanism, they probably could. But, I do not believe that was Hamid's point. Instead, I think he is trying to show Americans how it felt to be a foreigner - who by chance happened to have the wrong color skin - in New York in late-2001.