Changez, a Lahore-born and raised Pakistani, returns home after graduating from Princeton in the US and getting fired from his job at a prestigious New York finance firm. A woman may be to blame, but so is America's reaction to 9/11 in general and a semi-bearded Pakistani in particular. His story is unspooled through a dinner conversation with an unnamed American who Changez happens to meet next a market in Lahore.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize (in 2007), the Reluctant Fundamentalist is a mediation on identity and nostalgia (both personal and public), class (Changez comes from a noble, but falling family in Pakistan and climbs the ladder in America's education realm and New York’s finance sector) and the truth/fiction of the stories and myths we use to define us.
The novel's tension lies in understanding why Changez rescinds his role as bridge between two countries (or, two worlds). Here Changez lectures his unnamed guest:
While much of the narrative flow takes place on the personal level (and in the the US), Lahore becomes a great unnamed character:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is Mohsin Hamid's second novel. He’s now written four, and he continues his experimentation with the dramatic monologue, in which a single speaker uses stories to reveal his or her character to a silent audience. These tales, especially in the hands of compelling narrators like Changez, have an intimate and warmth to them that is supposed to persuade the listener.
As always, such conviction should be taken with a grain of salt. Check out these CliffsNotes questions you should ask yourself when coming across a dramatic monologue:
Reviewers and book jacket blurbers spent a lot of time exploring the underlying tension between this man of the “East” who once lived in the “West.” If we know Changez through his stories, though, we don't know much about the man he's speaking to. Much was written about the first CliffsNotes question above— who is the person Changez speaks to? He is just a tourist? Or, something a bit more complicated?
Mohsin Hamid explains some of his explorations with story forms: