The differences between norms of the Western and Eastern societies predetermine not only the way people live and their behavior but, what is the most important, the way of their thinking. Such peculiarities are displayed in everyday deeds, treating other people, prejudices. Hence numerous pieces of literature, among which one should pay attention to the works of an Algerian novelist Assia Djebar and a Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, face the problem of finding means to overcome cross-cultural issues and establish a transcultural dialogue. The purpose of such a dialogue is to connect the readers, who are very different from each other. Therefore, it important to regard the Reluctant Fundamentalist and So Vast a Prison as the novels, in which the authors offer some new understandings of the differences between East and West on the basis of their own experiences.
Although Assia Djebar and Mohsin Hamid have chosen different techniques, they both address the problem of transcultural differences. Djebar’s heroine Isma faces the contradictions between French and Algerian societies; and the protagonist of Hamid meets the differences between Pakistan and America. Assia Djebar based her novel Vast the Prison on the conflict, which was well-understood for her as she herself was a modern Algerian woman, who has experienced the conflict between the Islamic traditions and the modern European life. Consequently, one of the ways to tackle the mentioned issue becomes the usage of French language instead of the Arabic one. Such a choice highlights the contradictions, since it symbolizes the exceptionally difficult fate of women, who lived under the oppression of French colonialism. In addition, the act of writing in the language of a strongly different society emphasizes the great contrast between the moral traditions and lifestyle of the cultures, which are described. It is essential to point out that, in this novel, Djebar marks out the role of the Berbers civilization as depicting the ancient Arabic culture, which used to be glorious, but finally has fallen. The phrase, where the author stated the “Not a single Arabic or Berber word comes into my sentence” is symbolic in a way how the heroine prefers more liberal position and life of a woman in Europe to life in the Islamic countries, where the role of a woman is intentionally neglected (Djebar 41). History of language and of the country itself becomes a mean to refer to the depth of problems people meet, when they live in Algeria. Addressing the cultural issues, another author Hamid refers to description of how the world was altered after 9/11 and the story of love relations between an American woman and a Pakistani man Changez. Changez’s biggest aim was to fulfill his American dream. However, Hamid brings reader to a conclusion that no matter how a Pakistani man wants and no matter what he does, he will never become an American. The author showed that, although Changez was not discriminated or ignored, the patriotism was in his soul all the time and his “initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased” (Hamid 97). The tragedy with two towers made Changez smile while an average American, who would get a position in the society as the protagonist, would never smile to terroristic acts in his country. Interestingly, the reader can find the irony even in the title. The reluctant fundamentalist is used to highlight the cultural differences which do not let a young Pakistani become a real American, as the Americans are fundamentalist and their dreams come true in their country. After all, Chengez could not become more than “a servant of the American empire” (Hamid 56). This proves that the theme of exile caused by national alienation is revealed in both novels. However, Hamid’s hero is not exiled, but alienated because of his inner patriotic and moral qualities while Djebar’s Franco-Algerian woman suffers not only because of her beliefs and aims, but from the actions of people, who are around her, among which the main male figure is her husband, who made her “return to her prison” until she has found forces and courage to leave him (Djebar 96). Her inner voice is not as patriotic as the one of Chengez, and as a woman, who was treated with ignorance and disrespect, she finds much flaws in the rules and norms of the Algerian society. Consequently, her main conviction is equality between people of different nationalities and genders.
It is necessary to highlight that both novels Reluctant Fundamentalist and So Vast a Prison are a first-person narrations, which from the first abstracts can make the readers feel unsure if the heroes are fictional or the authors are telling about themselves and their own lives. The fact that not only the gender, but also the nationality of the protagonists coincide with the authors’ ones, contribute to the idea that the stories have much in common with real life and with the experiences of navigating between East and West of Hamid and Djebar accordingly. In result, it becomes obvious that terrorism and alienation according to gender or national affiliation become central in the novels, since these were the problems close to Algerian and Pakistani citizens in the end of the 20th – beginning of 21st centuries.
Djebar claims that the past and history must be taken into consideration as the examples of possible negative experiences, but the Algerian society must be renewed. Her idea is not only to emphasize that women in the Islam countries should be treated as equal, but also to show the horror of terrorism, which is the tragedy of not only women, which is acknowledged by Yasmina’s story as she was killed for being “Algeria-blood”, but of all modern world (Djebar 354). As the terroristic events and anti-American disposition of the protagonist is in the center of Hamid’s novel appear to be result of inequality between the countries and its citizens, it is important to highlight the necessity of moral justice towards the representatives of different societies.
To sum up, in her novel, Djenbar regards the word and history as the main weapon to get people, and namely Arabic women, free from the yoke of men and of terrorism. Hamid’s main idea is also to create mutual respect and just treatment of people from different parts of the world. Although, historically the religion and patriotic spirit has lead people to numerous conflicts, each separate individual should take into consideration all the national differences and overcome the transcultural issues, which very often become an obstacle for the welfare of Western and Eastern countries.