The short-story My Son the Fanatic is written by the British author Hanif Kureishi. He grew up in England in the 1950s and 1960s, being the son of a Pakistani immigrant and an English woman. He studied philosophy and began writing novels at an early age. Being the son of an immigrant, a majority of his novels unravel the difficulties and challenges a huge amount of immigrants face in their new country, especially the difficulties involved in finding a place to belong. Some of Kureishi’s most famous scripts and novels are among others My Beautiful Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia.
Parvez, the father of the teenage boy Ali, begins noticing changes in his son’s behaviour and at first sees this as a good thing. He believes that his son is finally growing out of his teenage attitude and taking more responsibility. However, when Ali begins throwing out valuable belongings and his friends starts avoiding him, Parvez gets seriously worried, and feels as if his son is ungrateful and that he himself has done something wrong as a father.
Finally he opens up to his colleagues who instantly believe that Ali has a drug problem and that he is selling his things to afford drugs, which later is revealed to be incorrect, seeing that he is giving his belongings away to charity. Parvez begins watching every movement Ali makes, but can not find that anything is physically wrong with his son.
He shortly after finds out that Ali has become interested and fascinated by the religion Islam, and that he spends all his time praying or going to the mosque. While Parvez feels relived, he can not help feeling frustrated and afraid at the same time. After a disagreement between Ali and his father, in which Ali utters his distaste towards his fathers friendship with an English woman and his consuming of alcohol, Parvez ends up beating his son, to which his son’s only repose is the statement; “So who’s the fanatic now?”.
The plot surely did not take place so long ago, because of the use of video games and computers, but then again, they do use video tapes and therefore it is fair to believe that it must be some time ago, seeing that tapes is not that common nowadays. The setting is possibly a middleclass suburb city and they have to work hard to achieve what they wish for; “He, for Ali, had worked long hours and spent a lot of money paying for his education as an accountant”. It is also suggested that the neighbourhood where the main characters live, is home to a lot of immigrants, seeing that the father mainly works with people from his own country. The story is told from a third person’s prospective, meaning that someone is standing on the outside observing what happens.
The short-story has two main characters, Parvez, the father, and Ali, the son. Parvez is an immigrant, who has lived in England for at least 20 years, given that this is the period of time he has worked has a taxi-driver there. He is Punjabis, which means that he is part of the Indo-Aryan ethnic group from South-Asia. He is married, although it is never clarified whether is wife is English or not, and he seems to have a certain control over her; “He order her to sit down and keep quite”.
On the contrary, when his son’s change in behaviour arises he does not see fit to discuss this with her, and rather turns to his English prostitute friend, whom he has befriended while at work as a taxi-driver. Their relationship is close, and they feel as if they can tell each other everything. For that reason it is fair to believe that their relationship might go deeper than they like to admit, something which is also suggest on numerous occasions; “Bettina put her arms around him” and “As Bettina rubbed his head Parvez told her…”. After telling his friends at the taxi-driver office about his son’s sudden interest in religion, they became unusually silent and this makes Parvez even more nervous.
Parvez and his son clearly disagree on a numerous amount of issues, but what are decisive to this short-story are Parvez’s alcohol consumption and his friendship with the English prostitute. Parvez’s hat and distaste towards Islam has its roots in an experience he had as a child, while he was being taught the Koran. This degrading incident made him avoid all kinds of religion, and he, as well has his colleagues, makes fun of people who believes.
Ali is Parvez’s son, good-looking and resembling his father. His exact age is not determined, but he is entitled a teenager on several occasions and he did have an English girlfriend. Before his behaviour changes he was a very good student and had a lot of friends. It is not made clear when or why Ali’s interest for religion occurred, but one thing is obvious: his interest for Islam, in many ways, has gone a bit too far.
Ali develops a sharp tongue and his friends pull away from him, something which he does not seem to mind. He encloses himself into his oven little world where nothing which is against his belief can be accepted. Ali’s fanatic behaviour when it comes to region and his urge to have something to believe in, might be owing to his desire and need to have somewhere to belong and something to indulge in, which can give him a sense of belonging.
The short-story focuses on the relationship between Pervez and Ali, a relationship which slowly, but most certainly, decline and is broken down bit by bit. Parvez’s anger is most likely disguised fear. He is afraid that his son will be ill-treated by people who does not accept his belief and that he will get his life destroyed because he becomes to caught up in his belief that he will not accept anybody else.
I, personally, like the short-story. It was well written and informative, though the language was a bit difficult at times. It does addresses an important subject; the urge for us to belong somewhere might lead us onto an unexpected road and that we should not be to hasty to condemn other people’s need to do the same, even though it might be in a different way than we had liked.