The Reluctant Fundamentalist Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Penguin presents the audiobook edition of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, written and read by Mohsin Hamid.
'Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard. I am a lover of America....' So speaks the mysterious stranger at a Lahore cafe as dusk settles. Invited to join him for tea, you learn his name and what led this speaker of immaculate English to seek you out.
For he is more worldly than you might expect; better travelled and better educated. He knows the West better than you do. And as he tells you his story, of how he embraced the Western dream - and a Western woman - and how both betrayed him, so the night darkens.
Then the true reason for your meeting becomes abundantly clear....
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|Listening Length||4 hours and 15 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com.au Release Date||29 March 2018|
|Publisher||Penguin Books Ltd|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 3,914 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
18 in Political Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
67 in Political Fiction (Books)
150 in Adventure Science Fiction
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Top reviews from Australia
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Easy to read, and the protaganist remained clever and rational until the end.
Top reviews from other countries
The conversation is enigmatic. Changez is a delightful host, unfailingly polite and obliging to the suspicious, surly American, who, we infer, is clearly worried that this whole conversation is some kind of set up. Is he imagining these threats? Is he ruining a lovely meal with a charming man due to some kind of delusion?
These is much delusion in this book. We see characters who classify fundamentalism as an insane state of mind confined to a few crazy religious people who come from somewhere vaguely east. Changez’s story, however, makes it clear that there are all kinds of fundamentalism, ranging from the business philosophy of New York consultancy firms, to the idealised love affairs of vulnerable young women. Confining the idea of fundamentalism to one set of circumstances and people is a fundamental misunderstanding.
The result of this misunderstanding is a kind of paranoid delusion. Just as Changez’s American dining companion imagines an attentive waiter as a possible assassin, America itself became delusional about terrorism after 9/11. The 9/11 attacks led to the deaths of 2990 people, which it goes without saying was a terrible thing. From 2001 until 2013 there were a further 390 American deaths from terrorism, almost all of them overseas. This compares to 406,496 deaths from American firearms in the same period – according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the U.S. State Department. Deaths caused by Americans shooting themselves and each other, are 100 times greater than those resulting from terrorism. Yet it is the terrorist threat that Americans fear, while their own far more lethal guns and attitudes are expressions of “freedom”. The aim is always to find an outside threat, some other people to count as crazy fundamentalists. Changez tries to explain this to his guest:
“As a society… you retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority.”
This trend is only gathering force. CNN compiled the above comparison figures for terrorist and American gun related deaths in 2015. They did so at the encouragement of President Obama, following a gun attack at an Oregon college. In 2016, millions of Americans decided it was a good idea to replace President Obama with a man who is only interested in creating outside threats against which he can rage.
All of these delusions sit behind the fictional, enigmatic meal shared by Changez and his American guest. Is this a peaceful meal or an attempted assassination? If the American’s suspicions are misplaced, might those suspicions themselves result in real trouble? Similarly, Pakistani fears could themselves lead to a violent outcome. Is the American reaching into his pocket for a phone or a gun? Is it wise to wait and find out? This might only be fiction writing, but it's a good place to explore the dangerous power of fictions as they collide with the real world.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist reminds me how important books are. This book is even more significant now than it was when first published in 2007. Books challenge stagnant patterns of thought and open up different points of view. Perhaps that’s why totalitarian leaders don’t like them.
The artifice of the 200 page monologue can get a bit tiresome in places, and the too-obvious symbolism of names - Changez embedding the concept of change with perhaps a hint of Genghis?; (Am)Erica caught up in her nostalgia for a lost past leading to a self-harm that also affects the people around her - can make the story and characters a bit simplistic. Changez is hugely naive for a young man studying at Princeton in the late 1990s, surely? and the 'twist' of what 'fundamentalism' means within the context of the story a bit tricksy.
Despite these issues, this is a compelling quick read, easily gulped down in a single sitting. There was only one point where Hamid, for me, said something via Changez that was more nuanced: when he commented on how American exceptionalism can itself be a form of self-harm:
"As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums"
So my second Hamid (after Exit West), and my second 3-star - I think his narrative tricksiness is not quite to my taste.
In a café in his native city of Lahore, some time after 9/11, a bearded 25-year-old Pakistani called Changez engages an American in talk, though we only read his side of the conversation, so it is in effect a monologue. We gather from it how the American responds. He seems nervous, probably regarding Changez as a dangerous Muslim fanatic. Changez tells him of his life.
He had had a scholarship to Princeton University, had graduated with distinction and had then been one of the select few who had been chosen to work for Underwood Samson, a prestigious consultancy in New York, which specialized in turning businesses around, usually by sacking many of their employees. Its operatives are constantly told of the need to focus on the economic FUNDAMENTALS in the concerns it takes on. He came top in the exacting training programme at Underwood Samson; and his employers value him greatly.
Changez seemed to be well-integrated in America, seemed in love with it, as he was with an American girl called Erica. (The Amazon reviewer “Pipistrel” has intriguing suggestions about the symbolism of the names Changez and Erica.)
He sees quite a lot of her, and she clearly feels affection for him; but he is aware that she has never stopped grieving a Chris, a boy friend who had died of lung cancer the year before he met her. He feels the dead Chris as a rival; and he behaves towards Erica was exquisite tact and never makes any erotic advances. In the end it will be she who will invite him, but their encounters are problematical. She is quite disturbed. There are many days when she does not answer his phone-calls and when he does not see her. At one time he visits her in a clinic where she had sought isolation. He never sees her again: she disappeared from the clinic and would appear to have drowned herself.
While Changez is in Manila on business, the attack on the Twin Towers in New York happens; and he confesses that the symbolism of America being brought to her knees appealed to him, though of course he concealed that from his colleagues. But immediately his life changed. He was searched at the airport before he boarded the plane back to New York, and he was again held back for a while when he arrived there. He is shocked by the American attack on Afghanistan, and alarmed by the threat of war with India. To affirm his identity, he grew a beard, and that made his colleagues uneasy. For his part, what with his disillusionment with America’s policies in Asia and unhappy about Erica’s wish to be left alone, he loses the concentration on his work with Underwood Samson, which had sent him to Chile to assess a struggling publishing firm. He was suddenly aware of the impact his work would have on the people in the publishing firm. A striking comment made by the owner of the firm, comparing Changez with a slave janissary in the service of the Ottomans (Americans) settles it: he is suddenly aware of American intervention all over the world, not only militarily, but also, through institutions like Underwood Samson, financially. He abruptly leaves Chile, and of course he lost his job in New York.
He returned to Lahore. He became a university lecturer, and stimulated his students to demonstrate – peacefully - for the real independence of Pakistan. He gave a powerful television interview in which he bitterly attacked American politics: it went viral. He was warned that the Americans might seek him out for retaliation. Was his American interlocutor in the café, who clearly packed a gun under his clothes, an agent sent to do the job? Or was he armed because he feared that someone like Changez might target him? The book ends with these questions.
It takes the form of a one-sided conversation between Changez, now returned to live in Lahore, and an unidentified American visitor. The narrator outlines his continually evolving relationship with the U.S.A. via both his career as a business analyst, and a tentative love affair; the 2001 terrorist attack on his adopted home city, and conflict involving both Afghanistan and India having rendered his life somewhat complicated.
The story-telling is fluid, playful, pointedly relaxed and surprisingly ambivalent, although the metaphor of Changez' relationship with an unwell woman is perhaps a tad unsubtle. Still, the focus on individuals rather than macro-politics gives it a pleasingly humane dimension.
Overall, the book lacked depth and potency. This book has some great ideas but somehow the execution fell somewhat short, and the read wasn't the page-turner I was expecting. Some of the cultural prejudices and misconceptions, that exist today and are highlighted in the book were relatable but I still finished feeling there was something lacking in the narrative/tale.