Thursday, September 1, 2011
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
I saw Hamid speak at Cleveland's City Club, shortly after he won the Anisfield-Wolf Award for this novel. His talk was insightful and humane, taking the U.S. to task for its relationship with Pakistan. Our country's crude and reductionist views of good and evil were a symptom of the Bush years, but I don't think our public conversation has become anymore enlightened or nuanced, although Obama may wish to lead us that way, in rhetoric at least. We are still bullying.
This book is more delicate than that, and treats these issues on an intimate level, in the space where one man lives. It is written in the second person - not easy to sustain - and it works well. As a companion book, I recommend H.L. Hix's God Bless. This collection of poetry excerpts and juxtaposes bits of speeches of Bush and bin Laden, showing, as Hamid also points out, their inability to empathize, and the surprising overlap of their mad ramblings.
Maybe part of what I love about teaching college is living in a world that recognizes the complexity of ideas. I miss the intellectual opportunities of Cleveland. As a student, I attended the City Club for free, and loved hearing the talk shows on public radio, like 'As It Happens' from Canadian public radio, and Dan Moulthrop's public policy discussions. There are many interesting people to talk to in Youngstown, of course! but we lack the critical mass of a city the size of Cleveland, and much of the NPR day is classical music because of budget constraints, I presume.
Still, there is more going on here than one person has time for. And in private time, books. Hats off to Hamid and Hix for shining a bit more light on the map.