Booklist 2017: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

There’s a reason why this was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 2007 – it’s a cracking read. It is no small technical feat to write a story in first person whose protagonist you can sympathise with despite holding some offensive views. The way in which Hamid writes positions the reader in the point of view of ‘The American’ who is the listener to Changez, the narrator. It’s not exactly a comfortable position to be placed because as the reader I was never quite sure who is the hunter and who is the hunted. I was always on my toes, turning the pages, wondering what’s going to happen next. The author is able to simultaneously bring together cultural ideologies, global politics and intensely personal experiences into an engaging and thrilling narrative

This book stood out to me because the narrator struggles with his growing resentment at the country he tried to call home. As a man of Pakistani origins he would always be considered a foreigner in the US, pre- and especially post 9/11, and the character is inwardly torn trying to reconcile his feelings with society’s perceptions of who they think he is.

In my own journey of trying to belong in the UK, I could really relate to the identity struggles faced by the main protagonist. I’ve lived in the UK for over a decade now, and I’ve never felt I’ve truly belonged. Having to reapply for a visa every few years is a tangible reminder that I’m on borrowed time. I suppose, like the protagonist, I feel like an outsider for the most part – always a foreigner, despite all my efforts to integrate.

This story stayed with me and it’s one that I will probably read again someday.

 

First winter race was cold (duh)

Manchester (UK) has a special kind of winter. It arrives early in June for a day or so, realises it’s early, then comes back around November and stays until March. It starts to think about leaving April-May and sometimes actually leaves between June-September to make room for Spring / Summer, only to take turns arriving/leaving/arriving for a week or so before it comes back. As a cooler weather person, Manchester is my kind of city. Usually. Then it rains. It’s the bloody sideways rain (e.g. Umbrella? Fool!) with wind that blows against you no matter which way you turn. It was that kind of day that I found myself running my first winter race. This year I signed up to Cancer Research UK Manchester Winter Run 2017 and entered the 10k event. I figured I needed a running goal to keep me moving during the winter. When it gets cold I like to hibernate, stay in, eat – drink- and be merry kind of deal. Having a goal like this in the middle of winters gets me out and about.

It’s been mild the last few weeks but last weekend the temperature dropped to below freezing. So here I was on the morning of the run thinking I could just not do the race (and stay warm and cosy). Then I remember I paid for this privilege and have been training the last few weeks for this run so, damn it, get out here.

img_3451Y’know I’m glad I did. I much prefer running in cooler weather than in the heat. The actual race was surprisingly fun. The enthusiasm of the crowd and the organisers really made the day. Cancer Research UK really know how to organise a good running event: loads of signage, tons of marshals and entertaining cheerleaders all throughout the course, like the Samba Drum Choir and the folks dressed up fancy dress winter animals (polar bears, huskies, and penguins) looking for high-fives from passing runners. OK, the latter is a little cheesy but when you’re running against 15 mph winds, uphill, every cheer counts! I loved it!

Also, I got a new PB at 58:12 (!!!), finishing 996th place our of 1634 finishers. I usually finish around 1:02-1:06 so this was a surprise. Not bad for running in heavy wind and sideways rain! You can count on Manchester skies to deliver a proper winter setting.

Image my own selfie, about 5 minutes after I crosse the finish line. Could still feel my finger at that point!

 

Booklist 2017: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

In light of the atrocious Muslim travel ban attempt by the current US administration (ugh), my social media feed was full of protests and condemnations. However there was one article (By Emily Temple on Literary Hub) that caught my eye, not because it was funny or furious, but it was the only thing in the mess of my newsfeed that suggested a practical and positive reaction.

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Essentially, the article suggested to educate yourself by reading books by and about Muslims to temper the ignorance and growing Islamaphobia. Newsfeed and social media provide a variety of positions, but actually reading work written by Muslims from a Muslim perspective is a position that I haven’t really taken into account. I’m of the view that everyone has racist views (including yours truly), conscious and unconscious, and these views that we carry around affect the way we interact with others. So the small act of reading books by Muslim authors is, in my opinion, a way of getting some perspective.

“Throne of the Crescent Moon” by Saladin Ahmed is a rip roaring adventure set in a fantasy world I’ve never really encountered. Fantasy books are full of characters set in and/or drawn from some interpretation of European-esque myths and legends: fantastic creatures (dragons, wyverns), ancient races (elves, dwarves, orcs etc.) and some kind of system of magic. This book has these fantasy world elements based on ancient Middle-eastern legends and myths – something I know nothing about. I’m not talking about Aladdin (the legend-now-Disneyfied) or Prince of Persia Hollywood-bastardisations. The author introduces the reader to a world that has the familiar fantasy elements but not as we know it. It’s best to read the book to get a sense of the world the author has built.

The thing that struck me the most about this story were the references to God that are very much part of the world. The references are not religious in any sense but the world which this story takes place revolves around religious customs. Greetings, curses, attribution to good / bad fortune are in reference a higher power(s). Indeed, the central conflict is between God and “The Traitorous Angel” but the story isn’t presented in a philosophical sense but through the eyes of the humans that are “blessed” with powers (from each “side”) to do battle. I found the references to God intriguing and it did take a little while to get used to.

The one thing I did find challenging was managing my expectation of what I thought was going to happen during the story. Without giving away any spoilers, I did expect the characters to be doing more fighting against the “ghuls” and “djinns”. There is a lot action, there is also a lot of talk between the main characters. My impatience I think comes from my (stereotypical?) expectations of what happens in fantasy novels and I found these non-action sections interesting but challenging to read.

In all, I really enjoyed Saladin Ahmed’s first novel and I’m SO looking forward to the next book in The Crescent Moon Kingdom series.

Image of the book my own. As ever, if you’ve read this book, or can give any recommendations, please do comment below!