Reading guide for The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 192 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Early on, Changez says that his café companion’s “bearing” gives him away as an American. What does Changez mean by this? What are his deeper implications?

  2. In chapter 1, Changez explains that his family belonged to the old aristocracy in Pakistan—though they are no longer wealthy, they still retain their social status. How important is it to Changez to regain what his family has lost? How does he hope to do that?

  3. When he’s vacationing with his college friends in Greece, Changez makes a joke about “an Islamic republic with nuclear capability.” Erica thinks it’s a funny remark—but why doesn’t anyone else?

  4. What do we learn about the American who sits across the table from Changez for most of the novel? And what do we never learn about this person? How does Hamid convey this information?

  5. Who is Jim, and why does he take such a liking to Changez? What do they have in common?

  6. Changez announces in chapter 3, “I was . . . never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker.” Explain this. How is Changez’s sense of identity altered over the course of the novel?

  7. In chapter 5, Changez is in a hotel in Manila, packing his suitcase and watching television, when he sees the World Trade Center collapse. “And then I smiled,” he confesses. Explore this scene as the turning point of the novel—in terms of plot, character, scope, and tone.

  8. After visiting his family in Pakistan, why does Changez decide not to shave his beard upon returning to New York?

  9. Over the course of his monologue, Changez delivers more than a few critical appraisals of American life, culture, society, values, and politics. Is it fair to say that these criticisms grow sharper—or cut deeper—as the story progresses? Why or why not? Identify a few such criticisms, explaining why you do or don’t agree with them.

  10. Discuss Changez’s relationship with Erica. What prevents them from having a “normal” relationship? Why are they attracted to each other? How does Erica’s fate affect Changez?

  11. In the book’s final chapter, Changez speaks of how terrorism, according to America’s post-9/11 political and military leadership, “was defined to refer only to the organized and politically motivated killing of civilians by killers not wearing the uniforms of soldiers.” Do you agree with this assertion? Did you agree with it in the weeks or months following September 11, 2001?

  12. When Changez is in Santiago, Chile, for a project, he befriends Juan-Bautista, the head of the publishing company Underwood Samson is there to value. Why are these two men drawn to each other? Why has Changez suddenly become so disinterested in his work? Who were the janissaries? Why do they resonate so much with Changez?

  13. For a novel with “fundamentalist” in its title, this work has surprisingly little to say on the subject of religion. When, if at all, does Changez speak of devout faith, divine right, or deity worship?

  14. The Reluctant Fundamentalist turns out to be quite a page-turner—a political thriller that builds to a memorable, and memorably climactic, conclusion. What exactly happens at the end of the novel? What clues or moments of foreshadowing tipped you off as to how the book would end? Why does Changez tell this stranger his story?

  15. Since 9/11, there has been a growing trend in contemporary fiction to write about the tragedy of that day and its aftermath. Compare The Reluctant Fundamentalist with some of the other “9/11 novels” you have read. What sets it apart or makes it unique?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harvest Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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