The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid, Two Roads Book Club, Will SchwalbeWill’s letter to the book club:

I’ve been having a fascinating time following the blog posts from the Two Roads Book Club. Your posts have been wonderfully revealing — about the books, about your fellow club members, and especially about the personality and quirks of the person whose turn it was to blog. It’s been fun to be a fly on the wall. But it was only natural that my passive observer days would come to an end! In February, I finally got to attend of your meetings in person — and had the immense book-club responsibility of choosing the book we would all read.

Someone once told me that most people think that the opposite of talking isn’t listening, it’s waiting for your turn to talk. Sometimes, I think, book clubs fall prey to this — all the members already know what they think about a book; then they all take turns giving their opinions; then they go home. Not much listening; a great deal of waiting for one’s turn to talk.

One of the reasons I’ve so enjoyed reading your blog reports, is that you all seem both very eager to convince each other and very open to being convinced. The perfect combination. I wanted to choose a book that plays to this — so I chose a book my mother and I had disagreed about: THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST by Mohsin Hamid. We were both in awe of the book with it’s probably-unreliable narrator spinning a tale that travels from Princeton and New York City to Greece to Lahore, among other places. And we were both greatly moved by the theme of loss — everyone in this book has lost something that can’t ever be brought back. But where we parted ways, on our first reading, was the ending. I thought at the time that there was one ending and you just had to be clever enough to figure it out. Mom thought the ending was purposefully ambiguous — that you could never know what really happened. The book led Mom and me to a discussion that will always stay with me — how to know whom to trust.

So I was very excited to see what you all would think about the book and especially its ending. I had come to believe that Mom was right — that the ambiguity was not just purposeful but essential. But after our Two Roads Book Club meeting, I realized that a reader could acknowledge the essential ambiguity of the novel’s final scene — and yet gain a deeper understanding of the book by trying to puzzle out the ending as though it could actually be solved.

It was a splendid evening — fueled by delicious wines and a perfect library setting — during which, I think, we all got to learn more about each other as we shared thoughts on which character was the pursuer and which the pursued. You brought my attention to many aspects of the book that had eluded me even after several readings. Like all of the best book club discussions, it wasn’t an argument — it was an exploration. On the flight home, even though in preparation for our meeting I’d just re-read THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, I read it again —  and learned even more from it. Though when traveling through airport security, I would caution against making a big display of the book’s jacket. The title raises eyebrows among the screeners and patters-down.

I can’t wait to see what you choose next. And can’t wait for my next visit to the Two Roads Book Club.


With thanks and admiration,


One response to “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

  1. Francesca says:

    Thank you for this letter, Will. It was lovely to meet you and discuss a fascinating book. It is definitely one that demands a second, and perhaps a third, reading.

    Next on our book club list is Suite Francaise, can’t wait to hear what everyone makes of it.

    All best, Francesca

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