The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist Summary

The Reluctant Fundamentalist : Lahore, Pakistan. A young fellow named Changez goes up to a Stranger on the street and inquires if he may be of any assistance. There is something within the inquiry that is an unsettling mixture of being overly polite and yet also strangely threatening. Changez tells the Stranger that he looks American and he would like to take him to a nearby café.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Inside the café, the Stranger is subjected to a tale by Changez of the time that he spent in America, specifically the time he attended Princeton University where he utilized his Pakistani background to the ultimate positive effect. Americans, he discovered, are immediately taken with the exotic. Nevertheless, Changez was forced to secretly take employment doing a number of different jobs in order to support himself and his family. The greatest lesson that he gained from Princeton was how to become indoctrinated into the ideology of the American dream.

By the time he becomes a senior, Changez snags an interview with Underwood Samson, a company whose job is to determine the valuation of companies. The interview goes well and just before starting his career with Underwood, Changez goes on holiday to Greece where he meets Erica, a Princeton grad and great beauty. When he gets back to New York, he works for Samson and spends times with Erica. Though life is good, he cannot help but notice a definite sense of alienation and loneliness coursing through Erica.

September 11, 2001. Changez is working in Manila and is struck by the intense emotional response to the sight of the collapsing World Trade Center towers. An emotional response defined by sheer pleasure. On his flight back to New York, Changez realizes that the world has changed forever for him. He now must face prejudice and discrimination based on his physical appearance as a routine way of life.

Erica has been equally traumatized by the events of 9/11, though in a different way and longs for her dead boyfriend, Chris. Changez manages to score with her by telling her to pretend he is her dead boyfriend during sex. Thinking that they will now be drawn closer, Changez finds that instead this experience has driven them further apart.

This pervasive sense of alienation sends Changez back to Pakistan for a visit to the old homestead. As a Pakistani, Changez also feels an innate sense of suspicion and hatred toward the U.S. for what he views as supporting the aggressive policies of India toward his homeland. And yet, Changez is not entirely at home within the skin of his Pakistani genes.

This feeling of a lack of belonging remains nebulous and unformed until he meets Juan Batista who views Changez as a janissary, an elite warrior force that ultimately became the most powerful political entity in the entire Ottoman Empire. They were also literally abducted from their own culture and reconstituted into a force trained to fight against that very culture. It all comes home for Changez upon the realization that by working for Underwood Samson, he is actually a warrior in the battle against Pakistani interests.

When he returns against to his homeland, he begins to give lectures against American interests and support anti-American demonstrations. Even so, he makes the claim that he never engages in or encourages violence.

As he nears the end of the story, Changez notices that the Stranger does not seem to be paying full attention and is instead furtively looking over his shoulder at a group of people following them. Changez agrees that the waiter with them looks less than enchanting, but he takes pains to inform the Stranger that there really is no reason to suspect harm might be coming his way.

He asserts that the Stranger should no more assume that all foreigners are terrorists than he himself should suspect that all Americans in Pakistan are spies. The Stranger puts his hand into his jacket which compels Changez to remind the man that they have become intimately associated over the course of his conversation and then go on to add that he very much hopes that what the Stranger is reaching for is a business card.

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