The Reluctant Fundamentalist


Changez is an excellent student who completes his bachelor's degree in Finance from Princeton University and joins Underwood Samson, a consultancy firm, as an analyst. He vacations in Greece, after graduating from Princeton with fellow Princetonians, where he meets Erica, who is an aspiring writer. He is instantly smitten by her, but his feelings remain almost unrequited because she is still grieving over the death of her childhood sweetheart Chris, who succumbed to lung cancer. After a date, they return to his place and he proceeds to have sex with her, but stops because of her frigidity and inability to get excited. After this incident there is an interlude where neither contact each other. But soon they go on another date, after which they have sex when Changez convinces Erica to close her eyes and fantasize that she is with Chris. Though Changez is satisfied at this development in their relationship, this irreversibly damages their relationship. Soon she gets herself admitted to a mental institution. He notices she is physically emaciated and no longer her former self. After this meeting he travels to Chile on an assignment. When he returns to meet her, it is found that she has left the institution and her clothes were found near the Hudson River. Officially she is stated as a missing person, as her body has not been found.

In his professional life, he impresses his peers and gets earmarked by his superiors for his work, especially Jim, the person who recruited him, develops a good rapport with him, and holds him in high esteem. This prompts the firm to send him to offshore assignments in the Philippines and Valparaíso, Chile. In Chile, he is very distracted due to developments in the world and, responding to the parabolic suggestion of the publisher his company is there to assess, he comes to see himself as a servant of the American empire that has constantly interfered with and manipulated his homeland. He returns from Chile to New York without completing the assignment and ends up losing his job.

In the global scenario, after the September 11th attacks, there is an air of suspicion towards Pakistanis. Changez, due to his privileged position in society, is not among those detained or otherwise abused, but he notices a change in his treatment in public. To express solidarity with his countrymen after his trip to Chile, he starts to grow a beard. After the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, India and Pakistan mobilize leading to a standoff. Noticing the American response to this situation, he has an epiphany that his country is being used as a pawn. With no job, an expiring visa and no reason to stay in America, he moves back to Lahore.

After returning to Lahore, he becomes a professor of finance at the local university. His experience and insight in world issues gains his admiration among students. As a result, he becomes a mentor to large groups of students on various issues. He and his students actively participate in demonstrations against policies that were detrimental to the sovereignty of Pakistan. Changez advocates nonviolence, but a relatively unknown student gets apprehended for an assassination attempt on an American representative, which brings the spotlight on Changez. In a widely televised interview, he strongly criticizes the militarism of U.S. foreign policy. This act makes people surrounding him think that someone might be sent to intimidate him or worse.

He keeps noting that the stranger is very apprehensive of their surroundings and he walks the stranger to his hotel where the stranger reaches into his pocket for something which has a metal glint. The narrator trusts it is his holder of business cards. But the novel ends without revealing what the metal thing was, leaving the reader to wonder if the stranger was there to kill Changez, or if the waiter from the restaurant is there to collude in an attack (and, if so, on whom).

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