Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fundamentalists

"Time only moves in one direction.
Remember that. Things always change."
This book was big in 2007, shortlisted even for Man Booker Prize. I didn't pay it enough attention (nor did I hear enough about it) until Mira Nair decided to turn it into a movie.
The story seems quite simple. A man in Pakistan explains his path in life to a stranger he meets at a café. Yes? No. How can one be a reluctant fundamentalist? There is no such thing! Right? No.

It's true, it happens in Lahore at a café table where a bearded Pakistani man addresses an uneasy American stranger. He starts telling him his story and as the evening spills into the night, his story becomes darker, stranger and more and more dangerous. His name is Changez and he was living an immigrant's American dream. He was one of the best in his class at Princeton and was noticed by an important firm that employed him and offered him the world. New York, Manhattan, traveling, interesting people, parties, stimulating work and interesting colleagues. His relationship with the elusive Erica who is still suffering the loss of her boyfriend seemed to be thriving when on one of those business trips in Japan he switched on the tv and saw something that looked like a very interesting and cruel action movie. Only it was not a movie but the attack on twin towers back in New York. His life changed in a second. His reaction shocked even himself.

"It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins."

Back in USA he is treated like a criminal. At the airport, at work, in society. As Americans grow more and more nervous about people from his side of the world and as more and more of his fellow country men, living in USA fall victim to vandalism, attacks or simple prejudice, he grows more and more confused about his feelings towards the country that gave him all he craved. Terrorism is all that USA is thinking about. When his neighboring country Afghanistan is invaded and attacked, Changez feels less and less connection to America, its people and beliefs. The big part of the story is not (only) the ending everyone raves about but also how Changez's life changes, the increasingly ominous and dark pacing of the story as he progresses through it. But the most astounding thing about this small, short and yet big book is who Changez is really talking to and to whom he is explaining his story, showing his true side, giving a glimpse of culture, tradition, ill treatment that his people were subjected to and sharing the secrets that he's long been hiding. Are you ready for it?

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