Summary and book reviews of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamid

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

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Book Summary

Changez is at the top of his class at Princeton, and is snapped up by the elite "valuation" firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past.

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting . . .

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite "valuation" firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

1.

EXCUSE ME, SIR, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.

How did I know you were American? No, not by the color of your skin; we have a range of complexions in this country, and yours occurs often among the people of our northwest frontier. Nor was it your dress that gave you away; a European tourist could as easily have purchased in Des Moines your suit, with its single vent, and your button-down shirt. True, your hair, short-cropped, and your expansive chest—the chest, I would say, of a man who bench-presses regularly, and maxes out well above two-twenty-five—are typical of a certain type of American; but then again, sportsmen and soldiers of all nationalities ...

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It's likely that some who would appreciate this book have avoided reading it believing, from the title, that it offers an apologia for fundamentalism. This is not the case. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that any well-read, balanced reader could find anything offensive in its pages. The Reluctant Fundamentalist raises many questions but, happily, leaves the reader to answer almost all of them for his or herself.
This superbly written, gripping tale is a shoe-in for book clubs and all who enjoy being intellectually challenged by their reading matter.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (545 words).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Laila Halaby

Hamid has done something extraordinary with this novel, and for those who want a different voice, a different view of the aftermath of 9/11, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is well worth reading.

The New York Times - Karen Olsson

[M]onologue is the substance of Hamid's elegant and chilling little novel

Publishers Weekly

Despite his off-putting commentary, the damaged Changez comes off as honest and thoughtful, and his creator handles him with a sympathetic grace.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Terse, disturbing . . . The climax builds with masterfully controlled irony and suspense. A superb cautionary tale, and a grim reminder of the continuing cost of ethnic profiling, miscommunication and confrontation.

Booklist

Starred Review. Hamid's second novel succeeds so well it begs the question -- what other narrative format than a sustained monologue could have been as appropriate?

The Guardian (UK)

An intelligent, highly engaging piece of work.

Good Housekeeping (UK)

This exquisitely measured story, as told by a Pakistani man, Changez, to an American stranger, is drum-tight with tension.

The Sunday Times (UK)

[P]rods the intellect, quickens the pulse and captures the imagination.

Reader Reviews

Lynn

Don't let the title turn you off
The main character, Changez, was very likable and at the same time able to subtly point out the biases that American's have regarding the Mideastern culture and people. It has made me think hard about how my assumptions are not always backed up by ...   Read More

Debi

Read this book!
Absolutely amazing. This is one of those books that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf. It is a wonderful journey of self-discovery and an extremely subtle journey of suspense. Don't let the title put you off. Read this.

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Beyond the Book

Mohsin Hamid, who now lives in London, grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and attended Princeton and Harvard. Like Changez, he has also spent time in Chile and the Philippines but he assures the reader in the interview you can read at BookBrowse that, while he has inhabited the geography of Changez's world, he is not Changez.

His first novel, Moth Smoke, was a Betty Trask Award winner, PEN/ Hemingway Award finalist, and New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has also ...

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