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Last Updated: Monday, 2 July 2007, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Writer Hamid focuses on fundamentals
Mohsin Hamid
Hamid's debut, Moth Smoke, was published in 2000
Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid says the seven-year wait for a follow-up to his acclaimed debut novel Moth Smoke was due to the need to have "distance" from the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The attacks occurred while he was writing his second book, newly-published The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a psychological thriller about a young Pakistani man, Changez, who meets an American stranger in Lahore.

Hamid had begun writing the book long before the attacks on New York and Washington.

But he said that when they happened, they changed what happens in the story "quite dramatically."

"I tried to write a couple of drafts after 2001 that were set before 2001, just so the events wouldn't overpower the story - and it seemed increasingly problematic to do that, because one knows what happens afterwards," Hamid told BBC World Service's The Word programme.

"To have this novel set immediately before seemed strange.

"After a while, I began to try to try to incorporate the events and set it around that time - the events suited the narrative - but it's very difficult to get enough distance from something like that."

Eventually, he found that in a way, the 11 September attacks fitted the story because they were part of "the same manifestation of disconnect and difference that I was writing about before they happened".

'Disconnect and difference'

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a short novel, presented as a monologue from Changez's point of view.

Changez tells the American the story of his life: how he went to Princeton university in the US; how he rose to a high position at a consultancy firm; and how he abandoned it all after the attacks of 11 September 2001.

Ground Zero after the collapse of the Twin Towers
A pivotal scene has Changez smiling at the collapse of the Twin Towers
The book is given a dramatic edge, however, as it becomes clear that Changez has not met the American by accident - and suspicions grow over what exactly is motivating him.

"Because it's a dramatic monologue, and it's set between two people almost as if it's happening on stage, there's a certain sense that it can't possibly be happening this way.

"There's a sense of space that it opens up to a writer, a slightly playful or theatrical space that you can operate in, and for me that was important because I wanted to create a particular atmosphere - one of mutual suspicion.

"I wanted that to very much mirror the mutual suspicion that I think America and Pakistani, or America and Muslim, society views each other."

The character of Changez was originally written to have a very American voice, but Hamid found this felt "too familiar".

Instead, he wanted to use the voice to be unfamiliar - and so wrote Changez with a voice from Pakistan's educational system, which has its origins in old British schools.

"It's both courtly and menacing at the same time," Hamid said.

"In the West, it touches on a strangely ancient culture that doesn't occupy the same historical time that we do - that we are in conflict with."

Fundamental focus

The Reluctant Fundamentalist contains a number of ironies - amongst them that the fundamentalism of the title is not to do with Islam, but comes from the company in which Changez works, which urges its staff to "focus on the fundamentals".

But Hamid, who himself worked as a management consultant for many years in New York and London, stressed that he was not attempting to single out America for criticism in the book, but rather a particular creed of corporate thinking.

"There is a corporate or a financial fundamentalism, which is broader than just America - it is a global thing," he said.

"It is a reduction of people to units of value, which happens all over the world, and increasingly often.

"In its own form, unchecked, it's exactly the same as any other form of absolutist system. I was setting up that kind of a parallel.

"I think those economic forces, and people who adhere entirely to them, generate the same kind of fear and hostility that people who adhere to fundamental religious forces do."


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