When it comes to politicised literature, a strong, didactic voice that resists passivity and plays with stereotypes is great. What is better is the ability to represent two of these opposing voices equally with dignity. This is exactly what Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist does so well. This balance, or contradiction, is contained in the very title – reluctance and fundamentalism bringing to mind opposing ideals. The dialectical nature of the novel could become wearisome in its insistence on not offending anyone. However, the subtlety with which stereotypes or popular opinions of Americans or Pakistanis is treated is such that the reader does not feel they are being lectured. For example, the protagonist recounts how Jim, his boss at the American firm, talks to him about his childhood living in poverty. The hint is that Jim assumes the protagonist is/used to be poor and so this is a male bonding session. However, the protagonist never picks up on this and makes a point about it, only mentioning in passing ‘I did not grow up in poverty’ (he is firmly middle-class), before discussing how they both feel like ‘outsiders’. Yet the reader cannot help but note Jim’s implied assumption that the protagonist must have been disadvantaged and had to overcome adversity to be in the US because he comes from Pakistan. In this sense, the novel strikes me as being realist in both the literary sense and a wider politic sense.

Issues stemming from 9/11 and the effects on Muslims (or at least Muslim-looking) in the US, immigration and even the capitalist lifestyle of successful New Yorker businessmen is never given as black and white but as the complex issues that in reality they are. The subtlety almost makes the book more political, in allowing us to see the impossibility of having a stable, innocent, concrete opinion. Whereas ‘9/11 literature’, as it is called, and the associated issues are well versed and discussed in our culture and so the novel is not necessarily telling us anything ‘new’, the more notable innovation is the structure. A monologue, with the reader/listener as the other character to whom the monologue is directed at and to which the protagonist responds. As the monologue addresses the reader personally, they are implicated in the action and so cannot voyeuristically watch as per normal.

It is fundamental that the monologue is coming from a Pakistani in Pakistan speaking to an American – this keeps the balance harmonised as the majority of the monologue recounts his experience in America. This is vital in providing an alternative narrative of Pakistani experience outside of its immediate relation to Islamic fundamentalism and its associated images (that which is popularised in American media)  – to see the Pakistani man going through challenges and experiences that are not directly associated with where he comes from is important for the balance to be kept. This is where the film comes into trouble, as an added plot twist (only hinted at in the novel) concerning the American government pursuing the protagonist heavily politicises the story and pulls away from the sole perspective of the Pakistani protagonist. The film ending is made overly violent, whereas the novel anti-climaxes somewhat disappointedly to leave a sombre mood.