Department of WTF

Giles Foden, the author of The Last King of Scotland and this year’s chair of judges for the Booker Prize, files a post-mortem piece for the Guardian about the judging process. I was shocked to read this tidbit:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist divided the panel: one judge felt the book tacitly supported Islamic fundamentalist violence, another that it evaded the issue. I thought these views were wrong. To my mind the skill of the book lay in the way its ingenious narrative device implicated the reader in the political issues explored.

The text itself remained ambivalent. The fact that the device was borrowed or learned from Camus’ The Fall did not generate as much excitement among the judges as it did among certain literary journalists. Most of us felt imitation of form was one of the ways in which literature is carried on. Besides, the debt to the author of The Fall was implicitly acknowledged by its overtness, and by a mention of Camus in the blurb.

Some of the judges thought The Reluctant Fundamentalist condones Islamic fundamentalist violence? The character of Changez smiles at the collapse of the towers not out of political or religious fervor, but because of feelings of inferiority and resentment that he, a man from a forgotten city of the third world, harbors toward the strongest city of the first world and its obscenely powerful corporations. But let’s face it: If the book had been written by a middle-aged white man (think Updike) he’d have been praised for his insights into the “Muslim mind.”


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