BOOK: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

AUTHOR: Mohsin Hamid


PUBLISHER: Hamish Hamilton (U.K) Harcourt (U.S) Oxford University Press (Pakistan)



The narrator who is also the author, meets an American man in a street in Lahore, Pakistan.  When they start conversing, the narrator jokingly tells the American man not to feel threatened by his beard. He also adds that he loves America. From the narrator’s words, one can already tell that the American man could probably had created a mindset or tag based on the narrator’s looks. “… I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.” The narrator said this to the American man to make him comfortable and as a gesture of kindness. They go to a tea shop and as they wait to be served, the narrator tells the American of his experience back in America. He tells him of his days in Princeton University in New Jersey and life in New York where he worked. The narrator, also known as Changez in the book, tells of an interview he had in a firm; Underwood Samson, & Company. At first the interviewer, One Jim, asked him seemingly odd questions but he then got the job. Jim had been impressed by the way Changez carried himself.

Changez talks of his love, Erica, whom he met in America Later in the book, we are informed that Erica vanished without a trace. This left the author heart-broken. He describes how beautiful she was and how they met. Erica wanted to be a novelist. She had told him one day when they had gone for a trip in Greece. As Changez and the young man take their tea, they observe the town, how some (college) girls dress differently from the women who are often in traditional dresses. Changez notices that the young man seemed distracted by the girls. There’s a sudden blackout as they converse and Changez tells him not to be alarmed. The American is a bit scared and thinks he might be robbed. He stood up but the narrator begs him to sit down as there’s nothing to worry about. We see how the foreigner is portrayed in the book as insecure. In his thinking, he feels Pakistan could turn to a crime zone when there are no lights. The lights are back in no moment and the young man is at ease once more.

Changez had traveled to Manila Philippines for a work assignment. On the last evening in Manila before departing for New York, as he switched the television on, he watched that the World Trade Center had collapsed. At first it appeared as a film and didn’t seem real. They had to postpone their journey back as flights had been cancelled. At the airport, the author was escorted by armed guards into a room and made to strip to his boxer.He was the last person to get into the aircraft back to New York and as he boarded, the passengers gave him weird looks. When he and his team got to New York,the author was separated from them. They joined the queue for Americans while he was made to queue with foreigners. He is asked why he traveled to America by a female officer, keep in mind he had been living in America for years. He even schooled there and worked there. We are shown how people who were not natives were racially profiled after the 9/11. It was even worse if you were a Muslim. Through out their conversation, we notice that changes addresses the American stranger as ‘sir’, shows he has respect for him. Changez was later to be fired from Underwood Samson & Company. Changez’ last days in New York were not his best as he often sunk into depression and emotional instability. He soon left America for Pakistan, still wondering what could have happened to Erica. As time flies, Changez’ and his stranger friend leave the market for the hotel where he was staying. As they approach the hotel gate, the American reaches in his jacket. The author detects something metallic but we are not told what it is. The reader is left in suspense as we are not told what the American was reaching in his jacket. Perhaps a contact card, maybe a phone, or a pen, or a gun… We are not told. Through out the book, very little is revealed of the American’s character.

With very few words the author talked of immigrants and the challenges they face, terrorism and its effects, education, romance, America and Americans as a subject.

The book has very few characters and the narrator, who is the main character happens to be my best. Though I sympathize with the events in his life while he was in America, I like how he tells his story. He has a way with his words, observant, and seems enlightened. Oh, and do I need to tell you that I was virtually in Lahore Pakistan while reading through the book? See? That’s how captivating the book is.