It seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia at that time. There was something undeniably retro about the flags and uniforms, about generals addressing cameras in war rooms and newspaper headlines featuring such words as duty and honor. I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back. Living in New York was suddenly like living in a film about the Second World War; I, a foreigner, found myself staring out at a set that ought to be viewed not in Technicolor but in grainy black and white. What your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me—a time of unquestioned dominance? of safety? of moral certainty? I did not know—but that they were scrambling to don the costumes of another era was apparent.As Changez learns to see the truth about America, he starts questioning his own role in the imperialist domination that this country strives to exercise over the entire planet. He realizes that he is complicit in every crime that he blames on the United States:
I was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensure that my own country faced the threat of war. Of course I was struggling! Of course I felt torn! I had thrown in my lot with the men of Underwood Samson, with the officers of the empire, when all along I was predisposed to feel compassion for those, like Juan-Bautista, whose lives the empire thought nothing of overturning for its own gain.As this realization dawns on him, Changez begins to see the entire structure of the American society in an completely new way. His job at a prestigious Wall Street firm that has been such a source of pride (and an impressive income) for him takes on an entirely new dimension in Changez's eyes:
I was struck by how traditional your empire appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a suspect race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the requisite permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form of indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer. . . 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.Once he has arrived at this painful insight, Changez is compelled to reexamine and eventually change everything about his life.
Hamid is just beginning as a writer and this is only his second novel. There is a certain heavy-handedness that sometimes comes through in his writing. From time to time, he fails to recognize the moment when the writer should stop explaining himself and let the readers draw their own conclusions. He is also still searching for his own voice, and that's why there is quite a lot of V.S. Naipaul in the way he constructs his sentences and builds his plot. Still, these little flaws can be forgiven to an author who can create a book as beautiful as The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
In the recent decades, the writers from India and Pakistan have produced the best literature in the English language of anybody on the planet. Moshin Hamid is a wonderful addition to the pantheon of great writers from the region who keep literature in English alive.