The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a cleverly written tale told entirely in the first person. Changez meets a man he assumes is American by the way the man carries himself. “It was your bearing that allowed me to identify you ... for I see your face is hardened.” Changez, a Pakistani sporting a beard, and the American sit together for tea and a meal at an outside restaurant in Lahore, Pakistan.
Changez begins his fascinating, rapid fire story explaining how he spent four and a half years in America, where he graduated from Princeton and secured a good job with a valuation firm: Underwood Samson & Company. The Reluctant Fundamentalist quickly became adjusted, thriving in the Big Apple where he considered himself more New Yorker than American. Although the university secured his future, it “could not make me forget ... the city of my birth.”
Changez tells the American how enamored he was with women’s provocative attire compared to the traditional dress of Pakistan. He talks of a relationship with a woman named Erica whose former lover, Chris, died of cancer during an intense, intimate partnership. Although Changez desired her sexually, Erica could never forget Chris’ ghost to become involved in another love affair.
As he speaks, gentle Changez notices the hand of his American acquaintance clenched into a tight fist after saying he smiled when the twin towers fell on 9/11. To lighten the moment he says he “was caught up in the symbolism of it all,” powerful America was “so visibly brought to her knees.” To further ease tension, he almost rebukes the American by asking if he does not feel joy at video clips showing “American munitions laying waste the structures of your enemies?”
A deep personal tension builds throughout The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Because bearded Changez looks foreign, he says he felt victimized after 9/11. When his other business partners passed through immigration without incident on a return trip from Manilla, he was pulled aside and practically strip-searched. All too often, a tire on his auto would be punctured, his badge went missing, his phone or fax line stopped working. He tells how he felt singled out even among friends.
When the United States bombed terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Changez saw TV footage of American troops raiding a Taliban command post. He tells of the horror he felt as innocent country folk were sometimes killed along with suspected terrorists. Wrath overwhelmed him. Afghanistan and Pakistan were friendly Muslin neighbors. U.S. troops in Afghanistan could plunge the entire area into war since India was already flexing her muscles toward Pakistan.
Changez continues baring his deepest feelings to the American as they eat. He confesses how disturbed he became to realize that as an evaluation analyst, he was enabling businesses in the United States or in puppet-like countries which shared similar philosophical ideals. These same conglomerates were responsible for American power, politics, and war mongering in the Middle East. As a result, he left everything: his moneyed job, his American friends, and Erica whom he never again located.