Mohsin Hamid, Pakistan-born, American-educated and London-resident, is arguably as well placed as anyone to write a novel that comments so profoundly and honestly upon the post 9/11 world. The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year and, it has been argued, deserved to be the winner, if only for its ability to cast a poetic lens upon our current troubled times and reveal a truth that is often missed amongst the sound and fury of all sides.
The novel itself is modest in size, but written beautifully and sparingly – perhaps more of a novella than a novel (indeed one of the characters in the book has written a novella). It takes the form of a monologue, or rather a one-sided duologue. An American businessman on a visit to Lahore is approached by a young Pakistani eager to act as his escort. The voice that we hear is that of the young Pakistani and his story is one of being educated at the most prestigious business school in America and a successful career in the highly-paid financial services sector, all abandoned in the fallout of 9/11, when he suffers the implicit (and explicit) racism of his colleagues and corporate America more generally, and undergoes a personal crisis of political and cultural identity. He is someone who has completely bought into the culture and aspirations of Western global capitalism, only to ultimately reject it for its shallowness. As the story unfolds the reader is left wondering whether he has himelf become a terrorist, intent on kidnapping or killing the American visitor, or whether it will be enough for him to simply tell his story, to have his voice heard.
It is a story that is deeply personal and the first-person narrative reinforces that, but it is also a global story that spans continents and ideologies. Ultimately it is a plea for understanding, reasoned response and for stories to be told, as well as a timely reminder that simply and uncritically demonising those who hold a different world view to our own is not as helpful as reminding ourselves of the humanity that is common to us all.