One of the nice things about being a big reader is meeting people who share your passion for the medium. You can talk about your mutual loves and sometimes you get introduced to something you wouldn’t normally read that turns out to be pretty great that. That was the case with Mohsin Hamid’s novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” A friend of mine gave it to me and didn’t say much about it. The description seemed intriguing so I gave it a shot and I’m glad I did.
The protagonist of “Fundamentalist” is a young man from Pakistan named Changez. At the beginning of the book he meets an unnamed man in a bazaar at his hometown in Pakistan. He strikes up a conversation with the man and begins to tell him his life story. It’s the story of a man who comes to America for the education opportunities represented in Princeton college. He excels and lands himself a successful job. Slowly though global events starting with 9-11, make him come to question that life.
Part of the reason “Fundamentalist” is such a compelling read is the first person perspective. Hamid gives Changez a very distinct and interesting voice. It’s clear both the author and his protagonist know how to spin a story. Even mundane events seem interesting when viewed through Changez’s perspective.
The other thing that makes “Fundamentalist” so readable is a growing sense of tension. At the beginning of the novel you don’t know much about the person Changez is talking to. Hamid doles out some details over the course of the novel and the more info you get the more your sense that something explosive is going to happen. It’s heightened by the fact that you never get dialogue from the mysterious man. You only hear Changez’s responses to the things the enigmatic figure says. In the climax of the novel you do discover the connection between the two men and it makes for both an interesting and shocking finale.
“The Relucatant Fundamentalist” was a quick and enjoyable literary read that illustrates how big political events can shape the destiny and feelings of one man. If no one has snapped up the movie rights to the book I’d be very surprised. It’s a story that also have a very cinematic feel to it. So all in all it was a very engaging read. Thanks, Tony.
Many of my friends know John Connolly from his novel “The Book of Lost Things”, but I haven’t read that yet. I discovered Connolly through his work on the Charlie Parker series of novels. They’re great reads that mix together the best elements of horror and private eye fiction for an always enjoyable cocktail.
The last entry in the Parker series, “The Lovers” was particularly enjoyable. That’s because for years after giving you scenes where the supernatural elements may or may not have been figments of characters’ imaginations Connolly plunged readers into the deep end of the supernatural pool with a story about his protagonist’s true origins. The revelations about Parker in “The Lovers” got me excited because they meant the series could go in some very interesting directions.
It doesn’t seem like Connolly is ready to head down those directions, at least not yet. Because “The Whisperers”, the latest Charlie Parker novel, is for the most part a standard entry in the series. That doesn’t mean it’s bad though, in fact I found it to be a pretty enjoyable read. I’m just really anxious for the next step in the series evolution.
In “The Whisperers” Parker gets hired to investigate an Iraq war vet whose been behaving strangely and waving around a suspicious amount of cash. As Parker investigates he discover the vet and his war buddies are part of an antiquities smuggling ring that has ties to the looting of the Iraq museum. One of the things that they have in their possession is a mysterious box that seems to whisper horrible things to those who posses it.
In “The Whisperers” Connolly gives us the usual mix of first person narration from Parker’s point of view, but he also gives us third person scenes from the perspectives of many other characters. Among these characters are Joel Tobias, the leader of the smuggling ring, and several of his comrades. These scenes are very compelling and poignant in that they give you a glimpse of characters who started off as doing bad things for all the right reasons, but greed stepped in to poison their endeavors. Parker also uses these characters to explore how the U.S. Government is failing the brave men and women who fought in Iraq and illustrates how when a man enters into something like war he’s in danger not just of physical death, but a spiritual one as well. Because the horrors of war can haunt a person long after a conflict is over and turn him into a nasty, broken shell of a human being.
The downside of following other characters is that we get to spend less time with Parker’s comrades Louis and Angel. The gay, black, republican assassin and his Latino thief lover are two of the best supporting characters in thriller and mystery fiction. And whenever they’re around you want to spend as much time as possible with them. Connolly does give readers a few neat scenes with Louis and Angel though.
Another character that Connolly further develops is the enigmatic Collector, a mysterious and supernatural seeming assassin who Parker has come up against before. In “The Whisperers” you learn a little more about who the Collector is and why he does what he does. He also sets up a final and very interesting revelation about Parker’s role in the battle against supernatural evil, which will hopefully set the stage for more supernatural revelations in the next book.
So “The Whisperers” isn’t the best Charlie Parker thriller, but it’s still entertaining and moves the series forward a little more into even more interesting territory. I anxiously await the next entry in the series.