Friday, July 1, 2011

The Reluctant Fundamentalist Review (briefly) plus First Line Friday.

In addition to my summer read-alongs, Roots & War and Peace, and my ActionReaders book group read, The Creative Habit, I've immersed myself in two refreshingly quick books this week:

First, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Get it at
 "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."
   In these first few lines, our skillful writer's packed an enormous amount of character development, situation, and relationship.  We're hearing a seemingly deferential, outgoing, observant, bearded narrator who professes - perhaps too strenuously for an encounter between strangers? - to love America.  The tone is set: Who is this narrator really, and why is he disposed to be so helpful to the American we can infer he's addressing?  And where are they?  What's really happening and why is the narrator concerned that his subject might suspect him based on his beard?

To sum up: The tension between words said and their subtext, action and intention, is sustained and intensified in this psychological thriller/political allegory as our narrator, Princeton-educated Changez, forces a leisurely dinner upon his besuited new American 'friend'.  They spend an evening at a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan, where Changez regales his 'captive' audience with the story of his life transformation from arbitrage wunderkind in NYC to social activist/professor back in Lahore. 

My opinion:  I raced through this intensely readable novel and truly enjoyed it page by page, then even more so upon reflection.  Suffice - for now - to say that I picked it up because it came highly recommended as a potential World Literature text (the focus of my 10th grade English class next year) and I admired Hamid's command of perspective and persona in his enthralling first person narrator as well as the way he craftily embedded allegorical elements into an intense psychological thriller.  (Don't expect the tension to come from violent actions, but rather from the mystery of who these two men are and what they're not telling us and each other.)
   It will make quite a thought-provoking read if you enjoy the ironic (and sometimes darkly comic) possibilities of a seemingly unreliable narrator, and are ready to ponder how humans encounter 'the other' - or how America's attempts to control other nations impact individuals' lives and worldviews.  It was - for me - a fascinatingly breezy yet resonant break from the plethora of hefty tomes I'm slowly devouring this summer.  If that's what you're seeking, then I commend this 2007 Mann-Booker Prize shortlisted novel to you.

And for extra measure, but with a more stately tone due to its 1600's setting and language, we present...

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.

"He is coming on the Lord's Day.  Though my father has not seen fit to five me the news, I have the whole of it."
    So we've got a lot to work with in the first two lines too... We know that this is a Christian family and that whoever "He" is, he seems to be aligned with holiness or with their God's power.  And we know that our narrator is canny enough to get the information he or she needs even if prevented by an overbearing father.  That's plenty of exposition in just two lines!  As it turns out, our narrator is Bethia, eldest daughter of the first (Calvinist) minister on the island of Martha's Vineyard, and "he" is Cheeshahteaumauck (Caleb), son of the sonquem (chief) of the Nobnocket tribe and apprentice to its pawwaw (medicine man/ shaman), arrived at their house to begin his studies in preparation to attend Harvard University as its first Native American graduate.

   I'm half way through and enjoying a virtual return to the Vineyard which is - to my eye and spirit - one of the most beautiful places in North America, while learning a bit more about its history through this fictionalized account.

Thanks again to Katy for hosting "Book Beginnings" over at her blog, A Few More Pages.  Why not sample or share a few more books today by joining the hop?

MFB, and see you here tomorrow for our weekend Poem In Your Post Blog Hop!


Rikki said...

I like the first beginning. In just a couple of sentences it tells us a lot about the setting of the story.

Laurie said...

It's an excellent book, and more than lives up to its opening lines!

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