“This novel, written by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, is the story that takes place in a single evening in an outdoor Lahore cafe, where Changez (Urdu for Genghis) tells an American stranger about his love affair with an American woman called ‘Erica’ and of his eventual abandonment of America. Changez is a brilliant young student who obtains his education in finance at Princeton and is hired by a prestigious company as an analyst. He meets Erica while on vacation in Greece. Their relationship starts out bright and but deteriorates as does Changez’s relationship with America until we are back with him in the outdoor cafe in Lahore talking to the nervous American who we never hear other than through Changez during the entire book.
The novel was engaging in that there was a building tension but I found the monologue a bit tedious and it left me feeling disturbed. Changez seemed like a nice enough guy but he grew more and more distant and angry. He had good manners but the hostility was just there under all the nice and polite manners. Erica was mentally ill and fragile. She became more and more withdrawn, representing Changez’s relationship with America. The American was depicted as ‘nervous and distrustful’. Jim was Changez’s boss at the company and he was depicted as a man who was an outsider but successful, unmarried and possibly gay. Changez and Erica change over the course of the story from a couple who looked like love and a future together might exist to estranged isolation from each other. This is a psychological fiction with emphasis on what is going on internally with Erica, Changez and the nervous American. There was mounting tension as the story progresses. This quote pretty much describes the ambiguity of the story; “....the prospect of sugaring your tongue before undertaking even the bloodiest of tasks cannot be entirely alien to you.” The structure is a frame story; we have the story of Changez talking to the nervous American and then we have the story of Changez’s immigration to America, his success at school, first job and love affair with Erica.
I felt that this novel which looked at the racism that Arabs, Pakistani and Islamic people experience in the United States, stereotyped and was racist in reverse.
“Why do you recoil? Ah yes, this beggar is a particularly unfortunate fellow. One can only wonder what series of accidents could have left him so thoroughly disfigured. He draws close to you because you are a foreigner. Will you give him something? No? Very wise; one ought not to encourage beggars, and yes, you are right, it is far better to donate to charities that address the causes of poverty rather than to him, a creature who is merely its symptoms. What am I doing? I am handing him a few rupees--misguidedly, of course, and out of habit. There, he offers us his prayers for our well-being; now he is on his way.”
“I turned on the television and saw what at first I took to be a film. But as I continued to watch, I realized that it was not fiction but news. I stared as one--and then the other--of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.”
“...in history, as I suspect you--an American--will agree, it is the thrust of one’s narrative that counts, not the accuracy of one’s details.”
“...entitled and unsympathetic American who so annoyed me when I encountered him in the classrooms and workplaces of your country’s elite.”
“....the prospect of sugaring your tongue before undertaking even the bloodiest of tasks cannot be entirely alien to you.”
This attitude wasn’t new and the prejudice and hatred toward America is not new. The author did a great job of depicting why hating Americans is justifiable while wanting to get a Princeton education and the “entitlement” of foreign students to be admitted to colleges like Princeton and Harvard while despising the land where these colleges exist. I think the author’s goal was probably to make Americans aware of our own anger, prejudices and hostilities but he also failed to understand his own prejudices and stereotyping.