Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid




(Highly Recommended)




Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com






Moshin Hamid’s new novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, reminded me of My Dinner With Andre, only with a single speaker. The monologist, Changez, is a young Pakistani who reveals the many dimensions of his personality and character through his monologue. Readers are eavesdroppers, and thanks to Hamid’s skills, we are gracefully led through this post 9/11 novel with a guide who helps us see the world from a different perspective. Changez left Pakistan to be educated at Princeton, and winds up working in New York, and enjoying an active social life. He reveals in the monologue that when the towers fell, he smiled. Caught between two worlds, he grows out his beard at work, and his coworkers shun him, as if he were a terrorist. He goes back to Pakistan. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 5, pp. 60-67:


Observe, Sir: bats have begun to appear in the air above this square. Creepy, you say? What a de­lightfully American expression—one I have not heard in many years! I do not find them creepy; indeed, I quite like them. They remind me of when I was younger; they would swoop at us as we swam in my grandfather’s pool, perhaps mistaking us for frogs. Lahore was home to even larger creatures of the night back then—flying foxes, my father used to call them-—- and when we drove along Mall Road in the evenings we would see them hanging upside down from the canopies of the oldest trees. They are gone now; it is possible that, like butterflies and fireflies, they belonged to a dreamier world incompatible with the pollution and congestion of a modern metropolis. Today, one glimpses them only in the surrounding countryside.

But bats have survived here. They are successful urban dwellers, like you and I, swift enough to escape detection and canny enough to hunt among a crowd. I marvel at their ability to navigate the cityscape; no matter how close they come to these buildings, they are never in­volved in a collision. Butterflies, on the other hand, tend to splatter on the windshields of passing automobiles, and I have once seen a firefly bumping repeatedly against the window of a house, unable to comprehend the glass that barred its away. Maybe flying foxes lacked the radar-­or the agility—of their smaller cousins and therefore hurtled to their deaths against Lahore ‘s newer offices and plazas-­structures that rose higher than any had before. If so, they would have long been extinct in New York-­or even in Manila, for that matter!

When I arrived in the Philippines at the start of my first Underwood Samson assignment, I was terribly ex­cited. We had flown first-class, and I will never forget the feeling of reclining in my seat, clad in my suit, as I was served champagne by an attractive and—yes, I was in­deed so brazen as to allow myself to believe—flirtatious flight attendant. I was, in my own eyes, a veritable James Bond—only younger, darker, and possibly better paid. How odd it seems now to recall that time; how quickly my sense of self-satisfaction would later disappear!

But I am getting ahead of myself. I was telling you about Manila. Have you been to the East, sir? You have! Truly, you are well-traveled for an American-­for a per­son of any country, for that matter. I am increasingly cu­rious as to the nature of your business—but I am certain you will tell me in due course; for the moment you seem to prefer that I continue. Since you have been to the East, you do not need me to explain how prodigious are the changes taking place in that part of the globe. I expected to find a city like Lahore—-or perhaps Karachi; what I found instead was a place of skyscrapers and superhigh­ways. Yes, Manila had its slums; one saw them on the drive from the airport: vast districts of men in dirty white undershirts lounging idly in front of auto-repair shops—-like a poorer version of the 195 Os America de­picted in such films as Grease. But Manila’s glittering sky­line and walled enclaves for the ultra-rich were unlike anything I had seen in Pakistan.

I tried not to dwell on the comparison; it was one thing to accept that New York was more wealthy than Lahore, but quite another to swallow the fact that Manila was as well. I felt like a distance runner who thinks he is not doing too badly until he glances over his shoulder and sees that the fellow who is lapping him is not the leader of the pack, but one of the laggards. Perhaps it was for this reason that I did something in Manila I had never done before: I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American. The Fil­ipinos we worked with seemed to look up to my Ameri­can colleagues, accepting them almost instinctively as members of’ the officer class of global business—and I wanted my share of that respect as well.

So I learned to tell executives my father’s age, “I need it now”; I learned to cut to the front of lines with an cx­traterritorial smile; and I learned to answer, when asked where I was from, that I was from New York. Did these things trouble me, you ask? Certainly, sir; I was often ashamed. But outwardly I gave no sign of this. In any case, there was much for me to be proud of: my genuine aptitude for our work, for example, and the glowing re­views my performance received from my peers.

We were there, as I mentioned to you earlier, to value a recorded-music business. The owner had been a legendary figure in the local A&R scene; when he re­moved his sunglasses, his eyes contained the sort of cos­mic openness one associates with prolonged exposure to LSD. But despite his colorful past, he had managed to sign lucrative outsourcing deals to manufacture and dis­tribute CDs for two of the international music majors. Indeed, he claimed his operation was the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia and—piracy, downloads, and Chi­nese competition notwithstanding—growing at quite a healthy clip.

To determine how much it was actually worth, we worked around the clock for over a month. We inter­viewed suppliers, employees, and experts of all kinds; we passed hours in closed rooms with accountants and lawyers; we gathered gigabytes of data; we compared in­dicators of performance to benchmarks; and, in the end, we built a complex financial model with innumerable permutations. I spent much of my time in front of my computer, but I also visited the factory floor and several music shops. I felt enormously powerful on these out­ings, knowing my team was shaping the future. Would these workers be fired? Would these CDs be made else­where? We, indirectly of course, would help decide.

Yet there were moments when I became disoriented. I remember one such occasion in particular. I was riding with my colleagues in a limousine. We were mired in traffic, unable to move, and I glanced out the window to see, only a few feet away, the driver of a jeepney return­ing my gaze. There was an undisguised hostility in his ex­pression; I had no idea why. We had not met before-­of that I was virtually certain—and in a few minutes we would probably never see one another again. But his dis­like was so obvious, so intimate, that it got under my skin. I stared back at him, getting angry myself—you will have noticed in your time here that glaring is something we men of Lahore take seriously-­and I maintained eye con­tact until he was obliged by the movement of the car in front to return his attention to the road.


Changez is a fascinating character, and in one section of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, when he speaks of the Christian boys that the Ottoman Turks captured to train as elite soldiers in the Muslim army, another meaning for the title became apparent. These janissaries were loyal to their adopted country, while Changez found no basis for such loyalty from his life experiences. Hamid is a fine writer, and the complexity of this monologue displays his skills and lets readers reflect about human behavior long after turning the last page.


Steve Hopkins, June 25, 2007



Buy The Reluctant Fundamentalist

@ amazon.com

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2007 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to The Big Book Shelf: All Reviews





*    2007 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the July 2007 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Reluctant Fundamentalist.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com