Click here to read reviewer Br. Benet Exton's take on The Reluctant Fundamentalist or
click here to read Kali Ravel's review.
In present-day Pakistan, a one-sided dialog occurs between a bearded young man and a mysterious American stranger in a café as afternoon changes to night and the street is closed to all but foot traffic. Changez, the protagonist and the only one who speaks, answers the natural questions that would arise between strangers - place of birth, attraction to America, experiences as an immigrant, and most importantly, the tragedy of 9/11 and its aftermath.
As Changez relates his recent past and disillusion with America, the journey that has brought him to this place, time and fate, the “impending destruction of my personal American dream,” we understand the profound changes he has experienced and how he has come to be in this place at this time.
Newly arrived in New York, Changez, a recent Princeton graduate, is hired at a prestigious valuation firm. Far from his family in Lahore, the immigrant is pleasantly surprised: New York City reminds him of the busy streets of his home, with a Pakistani deli near his apartment and the snippets of native Urdu spoken by occasional taxi drivers. New York embraces the newcomer with its cosmopolitan ambiance.
A perfect fit for his new company, Underwood Samson, Changez is pleased to vacation in Greece with other Princeton graduates before he assumes his duties, using the signing bonus to avail himself of the trip. It is in Greece that he first meets and is attracted to a beautiful fellow New Yorker, Erica. Although they do not spend much time together, Changez is encouraged by her response and looks forward to more meetings in the city.
An outstanding worker, the young man is appreciated by employers who note his ability to remain detached from the companies he reviews, an employee to watch. While his job is satisfying, the blooming relationship with Erica has not progressed as expected, the wealthy young woman still obsessed with a former, now-deceased lover. Inured to the subtleties of male-female relations of his culture, Changez does not question Erica’s reticence; rather, he waits patiently until she is ready.
Surviving the shock of 9/11, Changez is not immediately impacted, dedicated, as usual, to his work. But Erica has become a concern, sliding farther into fantasy, more distant, difficult to engage. Returning home to Pakistan for a short visit, Changez suddenly realizes the impact of the tragedy, hearing the concerns of his family and the threat of war by India.
Returning to New York, Changez is conscious of an animosity directed at him and that Erica has been hospitalized, unable to eat, increasingly delusional. The formerly welcoming city has turned suspicious and vindictive: “I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back.”
Caught between cultures and filled with rage, Changez questions the futility of dreams and the danger of delusion: “It is not always possible to restore one’s boundaries after they have been blurred and made permeable by a relationship.” In this beautifully nuanced and provocative story of unremitted passion and painful self-discovery, the personal and the political collide, Changez the victim of a world gone mad.