The Reluctant Fundamentalist

AUTHOR: Moshin Hamid
BIRTH PLACE: Lahore, City in Pakistan.
SETTING: a single evening in an outdoor Lahore cafe.

From The British Council of Literature

Mohsin Hamid was born in 1971 in Lahore, Pakistan, and moved to the US at the age of 18 to study at Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

He then worked as a management consultant in New York, and later as a freelance journalist back in Lahore.

His first novel was Moth Smoke (2000), winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Moth Smoke was made into a television mini-series in Pakistan and an operetta in Italy, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2000.

In 2007 his second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, was published and shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In 2008, it won the South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature and was shortlisted for the 2008 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book) and the 2008 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction). A short story based on the novel was also published in The Paris Review in 2006.

Mohsin Hamid now lives in London.

Critical Perspective

While South Asian fiction in English has been in vogue for over two decades now, and India has been placed firmly (even centrally) on the map of world literatures, India’s northern neighbour, Pakistan, has remained largely off limits.

When novels such as Salman Rushdie’s Shame have dealt with the region it has tended to appear as a site of the archaic and the enclosed, shut off from the rest of the continent and from the contemporary world beyond it. The work of Mohsin Hamid represents a refreshing departure from this (admittedly recent) tradition. Infused with elements of Scott Fitzgerald and the stark, compelling prose of American contemporaries such as Brett Easton Ellis, Hamid abandons the baroque in favour of minimalist brevity. Asked about this in interview, Hamid simply responded: ‘I’d rather people read my book twice than only half-way through.’ More than this though, his self-consciously ‘modern’ writing style offers a vision of Pakistani modernity which breaks with the stereoytype (that has prevailed since 9/11) of the region as fundamentally traditional, backward looking, essentially anti-modern.
His first novel, Moth Smoke (2000), takes place in Lahore during the summer of 1998 as tensions between India and Pakistan spiral. The novel’s anti-hero is Daru Shezad, a young banker who has been fired from his job and who subsequently drifts into a world of drug addiction, poverty, and criminality. Daru kills moths when he’s bored. The bitter jealousies that develop between Daru and his former friend Ozi (recently returned from study abroad, and now a wealthy businessman), and that culminate in revenge, carry an allegorical weight within the context of the broader nuclear rivalries between India and Pakistan. The extremes of wealth and poverty we encounter in the abrupt shifts between Daru’s unlit room and the jet set society which he flutters around, echoes Pakistan’s divided social state as its economy begins to crumble.The central image of the novel is of a moth spiralling around a candle before bursting into flame. The fatal image of seduction echoes Daru’s own dangerous obsessions and desires: with drugs, with wealth, with Ozi’s wife.



The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Hamish Hamilton
Moth Smoke, Granta


Premio Speciale Dal Testo Allo Schermo (Italy), The Reluctant Fundamentalist
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, shortlist
South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction), The Reluctant Fundamentalist, shortlist
Index on Censorship T R Fyvel Award, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, shortlist
English-Speaking Union Ambassador Book Award (US), The Reluctant Fundamentalist, fiction
Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book), The Reluctant Fundamentalist, shortlist
Australia-Asia Literary Award, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, shortlist
Asian American Literary Award, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Arts Council England Decibel Award, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, shortlist
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
New York Times Notable Book of the Year, The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Man Booker Prize for Fiction, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, shortlist
PEN/Hemingway Award, Moth Smoke, shortlist
Betty Trask Award, Moth Smoke
New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Moth Smoke



New York Times
March 23, 2013

Mohsin Hamid




Mohsin Hamid, a Pakistani writer, is the author, most recently, of “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” The film adaptation of his best-selling book, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” will be in theaters April 26.

READING I’m often reading multiple books at the same time. They are for different moods. It’s kind of like surfing the Web and having multiple windows open at the same time, only in a much slower fashion. I’ve just begun “Basti,” a novel by one of the great Urdu-language fiction writers, Intizar Husain. “Basti” means village, so I suspect it will have to do with a village as a microcosm for India and Pakistan’s partition and the different religions that used to coexist within them.

And I’m about halfway into “Lightning Rods,” by Helen DeWitt, which is also fiction. It’s a story told in business-ese about a man who comes up with the idea that he should install women in offices whom men can have sex with, thereby reducing the risk of sexual harassment. Thank goodness it’s written by a woman. I think it would be less appealing to read if it were written by a man. It’s just outrageous and really quite unusual. I think and hope that it’s a very sharp critique of sexual politics and market-based economy gone mad.

LISTENING John Lee Hooker is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve been listening to him since I was a teenager growing up in Pakistan and got into the blues. In a weird way, Lahore is a big river city like the various American cities that have to do with the Mississippi. Blues territory, in other words. The blues is pitched with the emotions and resonance and feeling of a lot of Punjabi folk music, which is what I grew up with.

WATCHING “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s a very well-made film. But I didn’t particularly feel there was a humanization of Pakistan and that part of the world. Of course, there needn’t be. So I guess on its own terms, it was a successful film, but perhaps its success was in a direction that was different from my own sensibilities.

FOLLOWING I think it’s one of the most interesting aggregator blogs out there. It puts together stuff from art, science, philosophy, politics, literature. It’s a completely international, cosmopolitan place to get information. It’s become my entry point to reading on the Web.

CUSHIONING I tend to walk a lot — an hour and a half every morning. At some point I developed a pain in my foot. I was in New York and went to this really great shoe store called Eneslow on Park Avenue South, and the salesman recommended these Birko Balance cork inserts to put in my shoes. They are just fantastic — a real walking enabler.

COMPUTING I’m pretty Appled up: iPhone, iPad, Air. Kind of disturbed by that, actually. I fell in love with the underdog and now they’ve become this world-dominant thing. It was like I was rooting for the 13 colonies and somebody handed me the United States superpower.

Kate Murphy is a journalist in Houston who writes frequently for The New York Times.


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