The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Hosni Hamid (Penguin, 2007), opens with doubt; suspicion and distrust in a cafe in Pakistan when a Pakistani accosts an American and engages him in dialogue or rather a long monologue. But there is no hint of danger, until the very end, when after a measure of familiarity has been attained, danger enters the picture like a dagger exiting its scabbard.
The Pakistani narrator is Changez, an Ivy League educated Pakistani who has abandoned a highflying job in New York for a teaching position at home.
Hosni Hamid employs the dramatic monologue to devastating effect. All through, we have two men in the frame of the narrative as well as a cast of other cameo characters but all we hear is a single voice; that of Changez and others from his past.
His voice is now cajoling, engaging, then angry, worldly wise, regretful and a lot more. Through him, Hamid has created a swarm of characters who speak through one voice. Changez thus functions as a ventriloquist speaking the language of our contemporary times; an epoch fraught with danger foisted by religious, racial and economic fault lines.
The story Changez tells his unnamed listener begins after 911 and unravels swiftly causing him monumental losses: his job, his girl and his life in the West. He returns home, a bitter young man clawing at fundamentalism.
Changez is a modern day Ancient Mariner who holds his listener in thrall.
The novel is a scathing commentary on religion and race relations, and shows how easy it is for one who has been offered access to subvert a system from within.