Posted in Books

Changez Changes His Janissiary Way of Life

Have you ever felt as if you are living in two worlds. That you do the things you do because you have to, but your heart is elsewhere. This feeling of being two faced or Janus faced is sometimes easy and at other time most difficult. In Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the main character Changez is struggling with this notion.


Changez feels as if he has split loyalties, on the one hand he is living the American Dream in America, he has a good education and a great job with a large income to match, but at the same time America is at war with people on his mother continent. As he goes off on another assignment for the company he works for to Valparaiso, Chile he is in great turmoil. In Chile, Underwood Samson is evaluating a book publisher for there client a potential buyer of the publisher. In this place Changez’s world really starts to come apart at the seams. He realizes, “as for myself, I was clearly on the threshold of great change; only the final catalyst was now required, and in my case that catalyst took the form of lunch.”

This lunch was with the chief of the publishing company, Juan-Bautista. This old man told Changez the story about the janissaries. Juan-Bautista explains ‘they were Christian boys, captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal; they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to.’ Changez soon realizes that he “was a modern-day janissary, a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine and was perhaps even colluding to ensue that my own country faced the threat of war.” After this turning point, this realization that he could not go on living in this world of dividedloyalties. Changez quit his job and returned to New York. “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!”

At this point Changez has only one thing keeping him in America the thought of Erica by his side. He went to the institution where he had gone to visit her and she was gone. Disappeared, no one had seen or heard from her since he had last visited. Changez went immediately to her mother, no one believed that Erica would ever be found again. Her mother gave Changez her manuscript, once he read it he “could not locate Erica in the rhythms or sounds of what she had written.” As he put down the manuscript he “had begun to understand that she had chosen not to be part of my story; her own had proven too compelling, and she was – at the moment and in her own way – following it to its conclusion, passing through places I could not reach.” He now had no option but to prepare toleave.

In the end, Changez was relieved to no longer have to be a janissary. He now only had one loyalty and that was to his mother land, though he still felt a connection to America through his emotional connection to his lost love, Erica. As he began his new life as a university lecturer, he made it his mission on campus was “to advocate a disengagement from” America and Pakistan. He encouraged his students to participate in demonstrations for “greater independence in Pakistan’s domestic and international affairs”, which later were labeled anti-American.

Images found at the following sites:

http://people.brandeis.edu/~nika/chile/valparaiso

http://www.janissary.info/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/infliximab/325668658/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/anthony_mitchell/2201987472/

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