Guardian book club: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid | Books | The Guardian

In Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 25-year-old Changez tells the story of how he left his home in Pakistan to study at Princeton, how he became a successful analyst in a New York valuation firm, and how, in the wake of 9/11, he became sick of America and its power and returned to live in Lahore. Now an academic, he agitates against American influence on his country, how innocently it is unclear.

  1. The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  2. by Mohsin Hamid

What is most unusual about this first-person narration is its form: it is addressed to an unnamed listener, an interlocutor. Over the course of an evening, Changez talks to an American, whom he has met in the centre of Lahore. (The novel is short enough to be read in one sitting.) They drink tea in a Lahore café; they eat together; they walk back through now dark streets to the American’s hotel. And all the time Changez is talking. With a slightly stilted politeness (“if you will permit me”), he explains himself to a listener who is, he assumes, not disposed to be sympathetic. “I suspect you are looking at me with a degree of revulsion”.

His interlocutor must speak, for the narrator often responds to his comments – “you are right” – but to the reader he remains voiceless. He is a sounding board for the narrator’s re-enactment of his initial love affair with, and final revulsion for, America. (His actual, unrequited love affair with the mournful Erica, while it absorbs much of his narrative energy, seems a confirmation of this alienation.) We are constantly reminded of the companion’s presence. Changez pauses from his recollections to recommend particular dishes; the American’s mobile beeps its message alert; an exhaust backfires and startles him (“It is most disturbing, I agree”).

Who is the man to whom Changez is speaking? From the narrator’s comments – often questions or exclamations – we can infer certain facts. The American is a well-travelled man (“Have you been to the East, sir? You have!”). He has not met the narrator before but wants to hear his story (“You are curious, you say, and desire me to continue? Very well”). He knows something of what it is like to be in military service. His lightweight suit bulges just where a security agent would wear an armpit holster. “No, no, please do not adjust your position on my account! I did not mean to imply that you were so equipped.” He feels threatened.

The form of address used in the novel is at once conversational and stylised, and is rare in fiction. Many novelists, from Fielding to Martin Amis, have addressed the reader, but few have created a silent character to whom the narrator confidentially “speaks”. The trick was first attempted by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy, where Tristram has several interlocutors, ranging from unsympathetic moralists to an intimate friend called “Jenny”. In the 19th century the use of an interlocutor became common in the dramatic monologues of certain poets, particularly Browning. In the 20th century, Albert Camus used the device in a manner similar to Hamid’s in his novel The Fall (La Chute), whose narrator, Clamence, reminisces in a bar in the company of an unnamed stranger.

It is a technique that dramatises antagonism as well as intimacy, and Changez readily detects resistance in his listener. We keep being reminded of the gulf between the narrator and his American companion. “What bad luck! The lights have gone. But why do you leap to your feet?” It will just be one of the frequent power cuts that are a condition of life in Lahore. Changez’s interlocutor has jumped to his feet, his hand reaching towards his wallet. He must be calmed, but he is never relaxed: “You, sir, continue to appear ill at ease.” The narrator’s solicitousness is naggingly equivocal. Is this politeness? Or is he taking pleasure in the American’s unease?

The framing of the narrative as an exchange also serves the purposes of plotting. “What exactly did I do to stop America, you ask? Have you really no idea, sir?” The one-sided conversation leaves us uncertain how far Changez has come down his political path. And the exchange itself starts to seem to have some ulterior purpose. We are encouraged to wonder whether the meeting between narrator and interlocutor is accidental. Changez’s reassurances to the American throughout the novel – “Do not look so suspicious. I assure you, sir, nothing untoward will happen to you” – have an unsettling effect.

Near the end of the novel he is unconvincingly promising that the men who seem to be following them “mean you no harm”. But perhaps the narrator is the prey. Having become an influentially “anti-American” spokesman, Changez might be a target for assassination. His companion has a satellite phone, and that bulge under his suit. Who has the power here?

World Book Night to give away 1m free books | Books | guardian.co.uk

Night follows day with the launch of World Book Night, as publishers look to inspire adults to read by giving away 1m free books. Inspired by the success of World Book Day, which last year saw schoolchildren cash in tokens for more than 600,000 specially-published titles, this new initiative aims to put “an accessible work of enduring quality” in the hands of adult readers in the UK and Ireland on the evening of 5 March 2011.

Participating authors Margaret Atwood and John le Carré welcomed World Book Night with great enthusiasm, with Atwood saying she was “amazed by its magnitude” and Le Carré calling it “beyond his most ambitious dreams”.

Key to the event is the concept of enthusiastic readers giving away their favourite book to people they think might love it too. Anyone can apply to be one of the 20,000 givers, choosing the title they most want to give away from a list selected by a panel including booksellers, authors and librarians, including novels by Sarah Waters and David Mitchell, poetry from Carol Ann Duffy, and memoirs from Alan Bennett and Nigel Slater. The 20,000 chosen to give will be able to donate 48 copies of their much-loved book.

An eclectic roster of high-profile patrons have stepped forward to back the event, including writers JK Rowling, Dave Eggers and Seamus Heaney, musicians Damon Albarn and David Gilmour, actors Colin Firth and Tilda Swinton, cookery queen Nigella Lawson and sculptor Anthony Gormley. BBC creative director Alan Yentob is also a supporter, and the event will be covered on BBC2. Stephen Fry, Lemn Sissay, DBC Pierre, Kamila Shamsie and Bidisha are also on the editorial committee, chaired by broadcaster James Naughtie.

Atwood, whose novel The Blind Assassin is among those on offer for donation, said that when she first heard of the event she was “amazed not only by its magnitude but by its simplicity. The love of writing, the love of reading – these are huge gifts. To be able to give someone else a book you treasure widens the gift circle.”

Le Carré, whose The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is another book that will be given away on World Book Night, said: “No writer can ask more than this: that his book should be handed in thousands to people who might otherwise never get to read it, and who will in turn hand it to thousands more. That his book should also pass from one generation to another as a story to challenge and excite each reader in his time -that is beyond his most ambitious dreams.”

Artist Antony Gormley, who is a patron of the event, also offered a cheer, saying: “Hooray for World Book Night, a truly wonderful celebration of reading, writing, and sharing! When the joy of giving and receiving is added to the fruit of the imagination, something big, lovely and generous can happen: for a book allows us to hold the experience of another in our hands and absorb it in our minds.”

Jamie Byng, chief of publisher Canongate and the chairman of World Book Night, predicted that the event would have “an enormously positive impact on books and reading” because of the sheer power of personal recommendation. “Having 1m books given to one million different people on one night in this way is both unprecedented and hugely exciting,” he said.

While the vast majority of the books will be given away by individual members of the public, 40,000 will be distributed by WBN itself to people who might not otherwise be able to participate.

Organisers hope to extend the promotion to meet the global reach of its title in future, but for the moment it is limited to the UK and Ireland

The selected books are:

Kate Atkinson – Case Histories
Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin
Alan Bennett – A Life Like Other People’s
John le Carré – The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Lee Child – Killing Floor
Carol Ann Duffy – The World’s Wife
Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Seamus Heaney – Selected Poems
Marian Keyes – Rachel’s Holiday
Mohsin Hamid – The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Ben Macintyre – Agent Zigzag
Gabriel García Márquez – Love in the Time of Cholera
Yann Martel – Life of Pi
Alexander Masters – Stuart: A Life Backwards
Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance
David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas
Toni Morrison – Beloved
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun
David Nicholls – One Day
Philip Pullman – Northern Lights

Erich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front
CJ Sansom – Dissolution
Nigel Slater – Toast
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Sarah Waters – Fingersmith

This article was published in The Guardian and is written by Benedicte Page.


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THE NEW ANTHEM-THE SUBCONTINENT IN ITS OWN WORDS, Edited By: AHMEDE HUSSAIN Reviewed By: Afrah Jamal

The oft ravaged Subcontinent has been through a silent revolution. Deep below the churning waters, past the shifting sands, under the staggering weight of century’s old bias and primeval beliefs, resides a wellspring of concentrated energy.

The freshly inducted members from the South Asian literary hall of fame tapped this reservoir and have been pushing boundaries with their fiery prose for years. They have been hailed for their refreshing new voice and scintillating style. ‘The New Anthem – The Subcontinent In Its Own Words’ is a literary cocktail compiled by Bangladeshi author – Ahmede Hussain to showcase a galaxy of new-born stars.

22 writers, with a shared past have left a profound impression on South Asian literature. Their sentimental trek across time stops often to relay the exotic beauty of the land, stripping away layers of history to reveal its true character. These disparate sounds, striving to he heard above the usual din bring the Subcontinent to life.

One is accosted by the regions turbulent history over and over again. This particular memory lane is full of sobering thoughts.  Both ‘Cyclone’by Khademul Islam and ‘The Fragrance of Cuticura’ by Amitava Kumar bring back that feeling of oppressiveness. ‘The Barber Lover’, and ‘Laila and Leela’ play with the spiritual while Carl Bloom takes readers down ‘The Alley’ forcing them to confront the ugly side of life in his adopted home.

Wistful voices from the Diaspora also join in the chorus. They explore a range of emotions, breaking away from tradition and cheerfully launching into the realm of political incorrectness. Liberalism creeps in stealthily in ‘The Straight Path’ by Bengali-American writer Abeer Hoque; the price of rebellion is paid in Rachael Khan’s grim tale –‘Foreign Exchange’.

The rest of the composition is equally compelling – if a little bewildering.  Altaf Tyrewala can get rid of unwanted babies but not the voices in his head while Razia fences unsuccessfully with the new cook in Kamila Shamsie’s ‘Surface of Glass’.

These samples demonstrate the collective wealth of the region introducing us to writers who are about to embark on their first major literary expedition alongside those who have already arrived.

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh still have some bitterness leftover. Ahmede Hussain’s new book is unconcerned with the (excruciatingly) slow pace of recovery and finds something to celebrate from each nation. Their spirited new anthem is in keeping with the changing reality.

  • Book: The New Anthem: The Subcontinent in its Own Words
  • Author: Ahmede Hussain
  • ISBN:9380032455
  • ISBN-13:9789380032450, 978-9380032450
  • PAGES: 336
  • Price: Rs: Rs. 750
  • Available at Liberty Books

Reviewed for Liberty Books

Email: afrahjh@hotmail.com

Blog: http://afrahjamal.blogspot.com/