The Reluctant Fundamentalist Summary & Study Guide

Mohsin Hamid
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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Summary & Study Guide Description

The Reluctant Fundamentalist Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a fictional novel about Changez, a Pakistani man who undergoes ideological and political changes as he studies and works in America. Living in New York City at the time of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Changez discovers that he no longer wishes to pursue the American Dream and instead finds his path in shifting beliefs and loyalties closer to home. The story is a frame narrative in which Changez tells his story to an American he meets near a café in Lahore, Pakistan. An embedded narrative depicts a suspenseful and ill-fated relationship between Changez and the American as the motives of both men are slowly revealed.

As Changez and the American stranger dine together at the café over a period of several hours, Changez tells his personal story of transformation. Beginning as a student at Princeton University, Changez was among the best of his class. He applied to a prestigious valuation company, Underwood Samson, and following a rigorous interview was hired and on his way to achieving financial success. During a vacation in Greece with other Princeton graduates, Changez met the beautiful Erica and became totally enamored. Their relationship continued and deepened once they returned to New York, but encountered difficulty as Erica was still emotionally attached to her deceased boyfriend, Chris. Meanwhile, Changez made great strides at work. He achieved top ranking among the trainees at Underwood Samson and the top executives were impressed with the work he did for the company. He traveled to Manila with a valuation team and enjoyed the fruit of lavish transportation, accommodations and respect. But a brief encounter with a jeepney driver in the street reminded Changez of the world from which he came and he sensed a closer connection with the poor worker than with his aloof and entitled American colleagues. The news of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center reached the team and Changez had to hide his pleasure upon hearing the news. He was not happy at the loss of lives, but was glad that someone was able to bring the powerful America to her knees.

When he returned to America, he faced extensive scrutiny at airport security because of his ethnic background. Changez attempted to reconnect with Erica. The recent events had sent her into a depression over Chris’s death. She remained distant despite the time they spent together. They were only able to achieve physical intimacy when Changez suggested that Erica pretend that he is really Chris. Instead of bringing the two lovers closer, the incident seemed to send Erica into another downward spiral. Her mother spoke to Changez and requested that he function as a stable friend and not a boyfriend. Soon Erica checked-in to an institution so that she could rest and find herself again.

Changez visited his home during a winter vacation break and reconnected with his family. He was concerned for their safety given all the political unrest between Pakistan and neighboring India. The visit gave him the opportunity to appreciate the history and cultural simplicity of his home and he began to question his adherence to the American ideals and business fundamentals of success and power that had been so drilled into him through his education and work pursuits. He returned to America sporting a beard despite his mother’s suggestion to shave it. The decision brought him harsh looks and rude comments from people on the streets, as the beard made him appear decidedly more Muslim. However, Changez wore it with honor and in an act of defiance to America and solidarity with his people.

Changez’s next assignment with Underwood Samson was to Valparaiso, Chile to evaluate a publishing company. His interactions with the manager, Juan-Bautista were the final catalyst that pushed Changez to completely change his ideological beliefs. In Chile, Changez was unable to focus on his work, constantly checking on the political happenings around the world and very concerned with the possibility that war would come to his own country. He was also captivated by the simplistic beauty of Valparaiso. The old city had a charm that reminded him of Lahore, his hometown, and he was saddened that both places no longer maintained the economic prosperity they once enjoyed. Juan-Bautista was aware that Changez was different than his American co-worker and used this to his own advantage. He invited Changez to lunch and told him about the janissaries, young Christian boys who were captured and trained to fight in the Ottoman army against their own people. He likened Changez to these boys – converted to foreign ideals and used to bring the economic downfall of others. Changez saw the truth of this comparison and suddenly decided to leave it all behind – quitting his job, saying goodbye to Erica and leaving America. Before leaving New York, Changez tried to visit Erica and discovered that she disappeared from the institution where she was staying. It was unclear if she had committed suicide, but Changez was devastated by the news. He visited her mother and she gave him Erica’s manuscript to keep as a remembrance of her. Although he had no real hope of ever seeing her again, Changez holds on deeply to the memory of Erica for many years.

Meanwhile, as Changez tells this story to the American, the evening lengthens as the two men share tea and then a meal. Throughout their meal, Changez toys with the American making veiled comments that he is aware of the American’s identity and purpose in Lahore. As the café closes and the two men head for a hotel, Changez tells of his work as a university lecturer and mentor to students and political activists. He says that he has been warned by his friends to keep his activities in check as his anti-American comments are attracting the attention of the American government and that an emissary might be sent to deal with him. The streets become dark and deserted except for a few men lurking in the shadows. The men rush in on the American, he reaches inside his jacket, and Changez begins to leave the scene. The fate of no one is known and the reader must decide the conclusion.

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