Though the main character of his latest novel shares many elements from his own background, "his story isn't my story," London-based author Mohsin Hamid says about The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
"He is a character I think I created to explore some tensions I felt myself, working through some questions I had from my own experience working in America," the Pakistani-born author told CBC News in Toronto on Wednesday.
Hamid, in town for Toronto's International Festival of Authors, won acclaim this spring with the release of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, his sophomore effort and one ofthe novels shortlisted this year for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
Like Hamid, the novel's main character, Changez, was born in Pakistan but educated at an Ivy League school and employed in the corporate world in New York.
After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,Changez must deal with a dramatically different atmosphere where "if you're a Muslim living in the west, there's sort of a presumption that you're a fundamentalist, until you prove otherwise. Until you order that beer in a bar or your girlfriend shows up in a miniskirt, you could be a fundamentalist," Hamid said.
Consequently, the character experiences a crisis in which he becomes disillusioned and questions whether his life in corporate America is "betraying the people that he comes from," the Princeton and Harvard-educated author said.
"The book doesn't really give any answers. I think it just asks some questions," he said.
Hamid, who said he himselffeels that a combination of his Pakistani identity and his U.S. one "is probably best," actually leftNew York to move to England a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.
He said he's noticed that in North America, if you speak with an American or Canadian accent, you are instantly thought of as a U.S. or Canadian citizen, but that is not the case in Europe.
"You tend to get thought of as something else, even if you've been there for a couple of generations," he said.
People in U.K. have 'more stoic attitude'
Nevertheless, he feels that the U.K. is less paranoid about terrorism than the U.S.
"People have a more stoic attitude. They think, 'These things happen, we'll try to stop them from happening,' and will get on with their lives," Hamid said.
He hopes his novel will help people feel less afraid.
"We're more afraid than perhaps we need to be. There are many things that can 'get' us out there, but the guy in the beard and the backpack in the [subway car] next to us is not likely to be one of them."