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Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Biography and Literary Career

Mohsin Hamid has spent his life in a state of relocation. His young life was almost evenly split between the United States and Pakistan. Born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1971, Hamid made his first move when he was three, accompanying his father to the United States so that his father could attend graduate school at Stanford. At the age of nine, Hamid returned to Pakistan, where he remained until he attended Princeton at the age of 18.

At Princeton, Hamid studied under Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison, drafting his first novel while in Toni Morrison’s workshop. After graduating from Princeton in 1993, Hamid attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1997. From there, he worked as a management consultant for McKinsey in New York City. Hamid’s first novel, Moth Smoke, was published in 2000. He began writing the first draft of The Reluctant Fundamentalist in 2000, finishing the draft in the summer of 2001.

One month before 9/11, Hamid moved to London, where he watched the events of 9/11 unfold on television “with horror and fear” (Aitkenhead). Although it may seem surprising that the first draft of The Reluctant Fundamentalist was completed before the events of 9/11, Hamid says that it was initially “the story of a [Pakistani Muslim] man’s encounter with capitalism as practiced at the very beginning of the twenty-first century and a man who comes from one culture to work in another” (Singh 154). Initially, Hamid resisted addressing 9/11 in his novel, for fear that 9/11 “would potentially overwhelm the novel” (Singh 154). Eventually, Hamid decided that he needed to address 9/11 in his novel.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist was finally published in 2007, after Hamid had written seven drafts of the novel. In 2007, the novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for fiction. In 2008, The Reluctant Fundamentalist won the Asian American Literary Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, amongst others. In 2008, the novel was also shortlisted for the Australia-Asia Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, amongst others. Most recently, Hamid’s newest novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, was published in 2013.

Publication History

The Reluctant Fundamentalist was first published in hardcover by Harcourt in 2007. That same year, the kindle edition was also released, and BBC Audiobooks America published the audiobook edition. In 2008, Harvest Books published the paperback edition. The most recent edition of the novel, the movie tie-in, was published by Mariner Books in 2013. The Reluctant Fundamentalist was also translated into at least 25 languages, including Arabic, Dutch, Bosnian, Estonian, Finnish, and Hebrew, amongst others. Many of these translations were released in 2007.

In 2013, the movie version of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, directed by Mira Nair, premiered. Though the movie’s story differs from that of the book, Hamid did have a say in the story that was told. He co-wrote the first draft of the screenplay with Mira Nair’s assistant, and was consulted on subsequent drafts. Though the movie differs from Hamid’s novel, Hamid says that he “didn’t want to insist [on] complete fidelity to the novel as long [as] the film had integrity” (Vora).

Reception History

Overall, reviews of The Reluctant Fundamentalist were quite favorable. The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The Observer, and The Washington Post all offered reviews that were on the whole positive. Critics tended to praise the novel’s style, including Changez’s voice and the novel’s monologue framing structure. Karen Olsson of The New York Times referred to the novel as “elegant and chilling,” while Andrew Anthony of The Observer claimed that Hamid “succeeded with a sureness that is quite mesmerising.” The Washington Post’s Laila Halaby called The Reluctant Fundamentalist an act “of courage…because the author tries out an unproven style, addresses an unpopular theme or allows characters to say things no one wants to hear.” The Guardian offered the only less glowing review, criticizing Erica’s role, Hamid’s aphoristic language, and the allegorical nature of some of the characters in the novel. Despite this negative commentary, the reviewer, James Lasdun, said that “There’s undoubtedly a great novel waiting to be written out of the anguished material of these kinds of east/west encounters. This book may not be it, but its author…certainly has the potential to write it.” Despite Lasdun’s dissatisfaction with the novel, then, he still seems to exhibit high regard for Hamid as a writer.

Contrary to what may often be the case, popular reviewers tended to side with the critics. One reviewer on Amazon noted that “this is a voice which exists amongst millions out there…[it is] the voice of men like Changez, who tried making sense of America’s dichotomies, but can no longer struggle to reconcile the willful ignorance and arrogant indifference that exists within our nation’s beauty and spirit” (Warrington). Much like Halaby, this reviewer acknowledges the existence of different opinions and voices in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Erica posed a problem for popular readers as well: the relationship between Erica and Changez was referred to as “cliché driven” and passionless (booklover). The ambiguous ending also seemed to trouble reviewers. One reviewer found it “not so interesting,” while another thought that the ending was a “curve ball” whose ambiguity left readers with “dilemmas” (Prashant, Garima). On the whole, though, with a 3.6/5 overall rating on Goodreads and a 3.8/ 5 on Amazon (as of April 15, 2014), plenty of readers, popular and critical alike, clearly derived some enjoyment from Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Works Cited

Anthony, Andrew. “The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid—review.” Rev. of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid.       The Observer 22 Dec. 2012: n. pag. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

booklover. “I wanted to love this book.” Rev. of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. Amazon.com 12 May 2007. Web. 15      Apr. 2014.

Garima. “An Open Letter to America.” Rev. of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. Goodreads.com 4 Jul. 2012. Web. 15 Apr.      2014.

Halaby, Laila. “Return of the Native.” Rev. of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. The Washington Post 22 Apr. 2007: n. pag.      Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Hamid, Mohsin. “A Conversation With: Pakistani Author Mohsin Hamid.” Interview with Shivani Vora. India Ink 18 Mar. 2013: n. pag.      Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

---. “Deconstructing Terror: Interviewing Mohsin Hamid on The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007).” Interview with Harleen Singh. ARIEL      42.2 (2012): 149-156. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

---. “Occupational hazards.” Interview with Decca Aitkenhead. The Guardian 10 Aug. 2007: n. pag. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Lasdun, James. “The empire strikes back.” Rev. of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. The Guardian 2 Mar. 2007: n. pag.      Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Olsson, Karen. “I Pledge Allegiance.” Rev. of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. The New York Times Sunday Review of Books      22 Apr. 2007: n. pag. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

Prashant. “At a Bookstore in India.” Rev. of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. Goodreads.com 24 May 2012. Web. 15 Apr.      2014.