Friday, March 23, 2007

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Mohsin Hamid was born and grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. He attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School, worked for several years as a management consultant in New York and as a freelance journalist in Lahore, and now lives mainly in London.

His first novel, Moth Smoke, was published in 2000; his second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, will be released in the U.S. in early April 2007.

Hamid applied the "page 69 test" to The Reluctant Fundamentalist and reported the following:
I allowed myself the inner smile of a gambler who knows he has been dealt a good hand. The page 69 test. The page 69 challenge. Where the rubber meets the road. One page, and one page only, to convey the essence of a book. More macho than the Pulitzer. More sexy than the Booker. This was it.

Seven years, seven drafts, fifteen hundred manuscript pages, and now all that was about to pay off. Not for me the panic of the novelist with 800 pages of tangentially connected plot lines, distantly related characters, centuries of narrative. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a flyweight: 184 pages of lean sinew, four hard-hitting characters, one quick jab of a story. So the odds were on my side. 184 to 1, not bad in this business.

And page 69 had it all. All four characters were there. Changez, the spoken “I” of the narrator, a Pakistani man who went to Princeton and fell in love with America, but then grew a beard and left for home. His audience, the nameless “you”, a suspicious American who, perhaps not coincidentally, meets Changez in a bazaar in Lahore and is now listening to his story. Erica, the beautiful woman from New York who tragically failed to forget her past and so turned Changez away. And Jim, Changez’s former boss at a high-powered financial firm, who once took Changez under his wing and taught him to value companies by their economic fundamentals.

Indeed, reading over page 69, I wondered why I had bothered publishing pages 1 to 68. Or pages 70 to 184, for that matter. Surely, this was all I needed to say. Perhaps, with another seven years of work, another seven drafts, page 69 is all I would have written. But I had been lazy, and it was now too late to go back. It follows here in full: page 69, what the entire novel might have been.

behind. Anyway when I got back everyone kept asking where I’d been and I realized I’d spent the entire afternoon there. It was kind of surreal. Made me think of you. – E.”

Such messages were enough to lift my spirits for several days. Perhaps this strikes you as an exaggeration. But you must understand that in Lahore, at least when I was in secondary school – youngsters here, like everywhere else, are probably more liberated now – relationships were often conducted over fleeting phone calls, messages through friends, and promises of encounters that never happened. Many parents were strict, and sometimes weeks would pass without us being able to meet those we thought of as our girlfriends. So we learnt to savor the denial of gratification – that most un-American of pleasures! – and I for one could subsist quite happily on a diet of emails such as that which I have just described.

But I was of course eager to see Erica again and was therefore in high spirits as our project approached its end. Jim had flown in to satisfy himself with our final conclusions; he sat me down for a drink. “So, Changez,” he said, taking in our exquisite hotel, the Makati Shangri-La, with a sweep of his hand, “getting used to all this?” “I am indeed, sir,” I replied. “Everyone’s saying great things about you,” he said, pausing to see how I responded;
Read an excerpt from The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and visit Mohsin Hamid's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue