“It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins.”
At a cafe table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani converses with an American stranger. As the evening progresses, he tells him about his disillusionment with America, betrayal of his American dream and a girl with whom his relationship is eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past.
I knew that Mira Nair’s movie was coming soon, but till I read the IMDb description of the movie, I wasn’t inspired to read the book. The way the book is described on Goodreads as well as the back cover, it gives you an idea that this guy, Changez, meets an undercover US intelligence officer and while he tells him all about his life in the US, he gets to know about the identity of the man he is talking to.
On the contrary. This is how the book went for me:
Page 1: Seems interesting. I was pretty excited to read it. Of-course, if Mira Nair is planning to make a movie based on a book, it has to be great.
Page 10: The book is an easy read. Simple language and all.
Page 60: Great, you have a good job and a wonderful girl, but where does the intelligence forces’ action start?
Page 100: I’m more than half done with the book and all you’re telling me about is how you worry about Pakistan’s place in the international scenario after 9/11, it being Afghanistan’s neighbour, but all I’m really waiting for is you to be taken in as a detainee and questioned. Let’s wait.
Page 150: Seriously? You have received differential, but tolerable treatment from your colleagues and the airport security, but there is a US officer sitting right across. When is he going to do something?
Page 180: 4 pages left and you’re still droning about the hardships faced and protests made by your people. Maybe there is something huge. Maybe
Page 184: I was so excited about you and you didn’t even let the officer speak a word. I didn’t know that things would end friendly, but you played the innocent man really well.
See, expectations v. reality. I thought I had a right to expect from an author something that has been tacitly promised in the description. I expected more drama. It made me uncomfortable throughout rather than excited and the most irritating part is that you are compelled to read it till the end in the hope of getting hold of the whole idea of this book.
This book has some great ideas but somehow fell short of the elements that would have made it a great page turner. It felt too safe and too confined for my taste. Islamic Fundamentalism is a sensitive subject and needs to be handled carefully without actually conveying any negative message or an ambiguous one but what Mohsin Hamid as seemed, resisted from going out of his comfort zone and stating everything at a superficial level without actually diving deep. The only thing I found acceptable was his realization of being victimized or prone to victimization because “I am a Muslim”.
I believe Hamid has a lot of potential as regards creativity, but he has to let go of his inhibitions. I was disappointed, big time, hence 3/5.