Thank you, Juan-Bautista

by Kelvin Smith

Mohsin Hamid’s intriguing 2007 novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, arises from the changes in global politics and sensibility following the attacks of 9/11.  He arrives in America from Pakistan to study at Princeton, becoming fixated with the troubled Erica and taking up a well-paid position at Underwood Samson (U.S.).  After a trip back home to Lahore, he returns to his job in New York (now sporting a beard) and is sent on the (somewhat improbable) mission to evaluate a Chilean publisher for a potential acquisition.

In Valparaiso, the chief of the publishing company, Juan-Bautista, is not too happy to see the Underwood Sampson mission.  He fears the owners will sell.

“…the prospective buyer – our client – was unlikely to continue to subsidize the loss-making trade division with income from the profitable educational and professional publishing arms.  Trade, with its stable of literary – defined for all practical purposes as commercially unviable – authors was a drag on the rest of the enterprise; our task was to determine the value of the asset if that drag were shut down.”

There is a visit to Pablo Neruda’s house and at dinner Juan-Bautista makes a reference to the janissaries, Christians who fought for the Ottomans.  Wheels are set in motion: the narrator walks out on the job, returns to New York where he is fired, and then he travels back to Lahore.  It is here that he tells his story to a mysterious American and it becomes clear that life decisions have been made – all, it seems, because of a Chilean publisher’s intervention.

“Thank you, Juan-Bautista, I thought as I lay myself down in my bed, for helping me to push back the veil behind which all this had been concealed!”

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, 2007