I just finished a book.
Have you caught your breath yet? Ok, shocking as it may seem–this one was pretty short, and a quick read. The book is by Mohsin Hamid and is called “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” A story about a young Pakistani who comes to the US for school (Princeton), graduates at the top of his class, and goes to work for a big shot valuation firm in NYC.
I can’t say that this was a literary masterpiece; I don’t think they will be talking about it in 50 years like we talk now about Catcher in the Rye (notice my skeptical preface so in case anyone has something bad to say I have a nice out? …don’t we do that with lots of things lately? Yeah the movie was ok…great cinematography, but the plot was lacking, and the acting was just so-so. It’s easy to take a non-stance stance. Also, isn’t this a really long parenthetical? I mean come on…isn’t it over with yet? Yes. It is. Now.) , but I still have to throw some props to the author for giving some outside perspective, and the storytelling is unique as well.
I’ll start with the storytelling style: everything is being spoken from the mouth of Changez, the brilliant Pakistani. We find him in Lahore (a city in Pakistan), and he runs into an American and strikes up a conversation with him since he spent time in the US. There are no words in the book that aren’t being spoken by Changez, but the author still gives context as to what’s going by using his narritive to tell what the other person is doing/thinking/saying:
Ah, they have begun to turn on the decorative lights that arc through the air aboove this market! A little gaudy? Yes, you are right; I myself might have chosen something less colorful. But observe the smiles on the upteurned faces of those around us. (p. 47)
That is done pretty often. He’ll infer questions from his American acquaintance out loud, and then answer them. It actually gets annoying at times, but again, it’s very unique story telling, and it held my attention for 184 pages (if you know me, you know that is an accomplishment!). The story is 90% retrospective on his time in the US, and 10% present sense stuff.
Ok, now onto the perspective. This will get me in trouble with some of my red blooded ultra conservative friends. You won’t like this book. So don’t read it. And I won’t try to explain it, or explain that the very reasons you won’t like it are the reasons that you should read it, because that never works. Changez found himself living the American dream. Ivy league graduate, white collar wall street executive, beautiful girlfriend, and lots of money. This all takes place, not surprisingly, leading up to, and in the months following 9/11, and the attacks on the World Trade Centers. Even though he was living like most Americans hope to live, he was still at his core un-American, and as tensions here and in the middleast rose following 9/11, he started reflecting very deeply about our country. The following was, for me, the most poignant (Adam, don’t say it) collection of thoughts:
I had always resented the manner in which America conducted itself in the world; your country’s constant interference in the affairs of others was insufferable. Vietnam, Korea, the straits of Taiwan, the Middle East, and now Afghanistan: in each of the major conflicts and standoffs that ringed my mother continent of Asia,, America played a central role. Moreover, I knew from my experience as a Pakistani–of alternation periods of American aid and sanctions–that finance was a primary means by which the American empire exercised its power. (p. 156)
I know someone will shoot me for being unpatriotic here, and please don’t think that I am not well aware of what a privilege it is to even write a post like this one without fearing for my own well being. But I have always felt–even as a young teenager and cheerfully guzzling down whatever uber-conservative evangelical cocktail of mis-truths I was handed by my church, school, and sometimes family–that the whole “Team America: World Police” (a movie which I’ve never seen, but wholly support, if for no other reason than an awesome title) idea is just not right.
I can’t say that I would have done a better job, if the decisions were up to me (which is why, I will NEVER be involved in politics). And I don’t even know how to conclude my own rant. Other than to say this: I hope that those of you who are in any position of power (government, business, financial, what have you), will take into account who you affect with your decisions, and what it is like to be in the shoes of each of those affected…not just your own, or your co-powerful, co-rich, co-management, but everyone.