Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a MISSION, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.
A wonderful, easy-to-read exploration of the different (and similar) way that Muslims/Pakistanis and Westerners/American see the world, and how a Pakistani who was quite assimilated in American society and understood and admired it, had an envied job and an American lover, saw it all fall apart after 9/11 and turned into… what did he turn into? Don’t let your preconceptions fool you. The book keeps the tension up throughout, though it basically consists of the narrator’s telling of his story, and leaves you with a cliffhanger. He recounts his biography to a shadowy American in Karachi (whose function the author leaves us to guess at) who, like his country, is both threatening and threatened. It is written in an unusual voice, the second person. Highly recommended.
Hamid, Moshin (1971-), The Reluctant Fundamentalist, London, Penguin, 2008 (originally 2007), ISBN 978-0-141-02954-2
“If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man,’ said Atticus. ‘So far nothing in your life has interfered with your reasoning process. Those are twelve reasonable men in everyday life, Tom’s jury, but you saw something come between them and reason. You saw the same thing that night in front of the jail. When that crew went away, they didn’t go as reasonable men, they went because we were there. There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads – they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.’
‘Doesn’t make it right,’ said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly on his knee. ‘You can’t just convict a man on evidence like that – you can’t.’
‘YOU couldn’t, but THEY could and did.’
A heartbreakingly beautiful book about justice (and the lack thereof) – like everyone else the US falls short of its ideals, but surely that’s better than not having those ideals in the first place. It’s a reminder that without some brave people to stick up for what’s right, the world would be even more screwed up than it is now. It is a desperate call for us as ordinary people to be heroes and to stand up for what is right, even if necessary against the prevailing order in our society and our own narrowly selfish interests, so that a better world will prevail. The judgement comes as a total shock, almost physical, and it will leave you moist-eyed!
Lee, Harper (1916-2016): To Kill a Mockingbird, London: Vintage, 2004, ISBN 9780099466734