Monday, July 16, 2012

Do not be frightened of my beard: I am a lover of America

A while ago Brenna over at Literary Musings wrote about this book and since then it's a book I've kept in the back of my head as one I'd like to check out. Nothing I was actively looking for but if I happen to come across it I would check it out. Well I happen to come across it when it was on the remainder table of my local bookstore and since I want to read more non-white people I decided now was the time to pick it up and try it out.

This was different than I thought. Told in the second person, the main character Changez is telling an American his story about living in America pre and post 9/11 and the woman Erica he loved. The frame story is in the second person, so Changez is talking to you, although in this case "you" is a large nervous American man. It's a great device and it doesn't feel hokey. It feels natural, even if it's hard to believe a stranger would actually share so much or even that another stranger would stay and listen for so long. Or maybe I'm just not friendly enough to want to sit for hours and listen to a stranger's story. But of course, there is the feeling that this American in Lahore is more than just a tourist.

Changez tells "you" about his time at Princeton an later when working at a prestigious consulting firm in New York City. He quickly becomes a star employee and things seem to be going well with Erica. But then things start to fall apart. Before they met Erica had lost her best friend/first boyfriend and has never really recovered. And then while working in the Philippines Changez sees a news report about the 9/11 attacks. He starts to question his place and his loyalties as tensions in the middle east grow. He feels guilty about living in America while his family is in Pakistan and under the threat of war.

There is, as the blurb on my cover tells me, "enormous tension." However I can't say it's "more exciting than any thriller I've read in a long time". Tense yes, thrilling eh. At least not in the conventional term of a thriller. It's not a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller. I wasn't constantly holding my breath wondering what would happen next. But it was a story that kept my attention. I found myself both sympathizing and repulsed by Changez. It was an interesting story and one I'm glad I read, though I can't say that I found a new favorite here.

Title quote from page 1

Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Hardcourt Inc, 2007