The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Mohsin Hamid
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The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Now a major motion picture
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize
A New York Times bestseller
A Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
A New York Times Notable Book

“Extreme times call for extreme reactions, extreme writing. Hamid has done something extraordinary with this novel.”Washington Post
“One of those achingly assured novels that makes you happy to be a reader.”—Junot Diaz
“Brief, charming, and quietly furious . . . a resounding success.”—Village Voice 

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter . . .
          Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156034029
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/14/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 31,314
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

MOHSIN HAMID grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and attended Princeton and Harvard. His first novel, Moth Smoke , was a Betty Trask Award winner, PEN/ Hemingway Award finalist, and New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has also appeared in Time, The New York Times, and other publications. He lives in London.


London, U.K.

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Lahore, Pakistan


A.B., Princeton University, 1993; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1997

Read an Excerpt

EXCUSE ME, SIR, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.
How did I know you were American? No, not by the color of your skin; we have a range of complexions in this country, and yours occurs often among the people of our northwest frontier. Nor was it your dress that gave you away; a European tourist could as easily have purchased in Des Moines your suit, with its single vent, and your button-down shirt. True, your hair, short-cropped, and your expansive chest—the chest, I would say, of a man who bench-presses regularly, and maxes out well above two-twenty-five—are typical of a certain type of American; but then again, sportsmen and soldiers of all nationalities tend to look alike. Instead, it was your bearing that allowed me to identify you, and I do not mean that as an insult, for I see your face has hardened, but merely as an observation.
Come, tell me, what were you looking for? Surely, at this time of day, only one thing could have brought you to the district of Old Anarkali—named, as you may be aware, after a courtesan immured for loving a prince—and that is the quest for the perfect cup of tea. Have I guessed correctly? Then allow me, sir, to suggest my favorite among these many establishments. Yes, this is the one. Its metal chairs are no better upholstered, its wooden tables are equally rough, and it is, like the others, open to the sky. But the quality of its tea, I assure you, is unparalleled.
You prefer that seat, with your back so close to the wall? Very well, although you will benefit less from the intermittent breeze, which, when it does blow, makes these warm afternoons more pleasant. And will you not remove your jacket? So formal! Now that is not typical of Americans, at least not in my experience. And my experience is substantial: I spent four and a half years in your country. Where? I worked in New York, and before that attended college in New Jersey. Yes, you are right: it was Princeton! Quite a guess, I must say.
What did I think of Princeton? Well, the answer to that question requires a story. When I first arrived, I looked around me at the Gothic buildings—younger, I later learned, than many of the mosques of this city, but made through acid treatment and ingenious stonemasonry to look older—and thought, This is a dream come true. Princeton inspired in me the feeling that my life was a film in which I was the star and everything was possible. I have access to this beautiful campus, I thought, to professors who are titans in their fields and fellow students who are philosopher-kings in the making.
I was, I must admit, overly generous in my initial assumptions about the standard of the student body. They were almost all intelligent, and many were brilliant, but whereas I was one of only two Pakistanis in my entering class—two from a population of over a hundred million souls, mind you—the Americans faced much less daunting odds in the selection process. A thousand of your compatriots were enrolled, five hundred times as many, even though your country’s population was only twice that of mine. As a result, the non-Americans among us tended on average to do better than the Americans, and in my case I reached my senior year without having received a single B.
Looking back now, I see the power of that system, pragmatic and effective, like so much else in America. We international students were sourced from around the globe, sifted not only by well-honed standardized tests but by painstakingly customized evaluations—interviews, essays, recommendations—until the best and the brightest of us had been identified. I myself had among the top exam results in Pakistan and was besides a soccer player good enough to compete on the varsity team, which I did until I damaged my knee in my sophomore year. Students like me were given visas and scholarships, complete financial aid, mind you, and invited into the ranks of the meritocracy. In return, we were expected to contribute our talents to your society, the society we were joining. And for the most part, we were happy to do so. I certainly was, at least at first.
Every fall, Princeton raised her skirt for the corporate recruiters who came onto campus and—as you say in America—showed them some skin. The skin Princeton showed was good skin, of course—young, eloquent, and clever as can be—but even among all that skin, I knew in my senior year that I was something special. I was a perfect breast, if you will—tan, succulent, seemingly defiant of gravity—and I was confident of getting any job I wanted.
Except one: Underwood Samson & Company. You have not heard of them? They were a valuation firm. They told their clients how much businesses were worth, and they did so, it was said, with a precision that was uncanny. They were small—a boutique, really, employing a bare minimum of people—and they paid well, offering the fresh graduate a base salary of over eighty thousand dollars. But more importantly, they gave one a robust set of skills and an exalted brand name, so exalted, in fact, that after two or three years there as an analyst, one was virtually guaranteed admission to Harvard Business School. Because of this, over a hundred members of the Princeton Class of 2001 sent their grades and résumés to Underwood Samson. Eight were selected—not for jobs, I should make clear, but for interviews—and one of them was me.
You seem worried. Do not be; this burly fellow is merely our waiter, and there is no need to reach under your jacket, I assume to grasp your wallet, as we will pay him later, when we are done. Would you prefer regular tea, with milk and sugar, or green tea, or perhaps their more fragrant specialty, Kashmiri tea? Excellent choice. I will have the same, and perhaps a plate of jalebis as well. There. He has gone. I must admit, he is a rather intimidating chap. But irreproachably polite: you would have been surprised by the sweetness of his speech, if only you understood Urdu. Where were we? Ah yes, Underwood Samson. On the day of my interview, I was uncharacteristically nervous. They had sent a single interviewer, and he received us in a room at the Nassau Inn, an ordinary room, mind you, not a suite; they knew we were sufficiently impressed already. When my turn came, I entered and found a man physically not unlike yourself; he, too, had the look of a seasoned army officer. “Changez?” he said, and I nodded, for that is indeed my name. “Come on in and take a seat.” His name was Jim, he told me, and I had precisely fifty minutes to convince him to offer me a job. “Sell yourself,” he said. “What makes you special?” I began with my transcript, pointing out that I was on track to graduate summa cum laude, that I had, as I have mentioned, yet to receive a single B. “I’m sure you’re smart,” he said, “but none of the people I’m talking to today has any Bs.” This, for me, was an unsettling revelation. I told him that I was tenacious, that after injuring my knee I had made it through physiotherapy in half the time the doctors expected, and while I could no longer play varsity soccer, I could once again run a mile in less than six minutes. “That’s good,” he said, and for the first time it seemed to me I had made something of an impression on him, when he added, “but what else?”
I fell silent. I am, as you can see, normally quite happy to chat, but in that moment I did not know what to say. I watched him watch me, trying to understand what he was looking for. He glanced down at my résumé, which was lying between us on the table, and then back up again. His eyes were cold, a pale blue, and judgmental, not in the way that word is normally used, but in the sense of being professionally appraising, like a jeweler’s when he inspects out of curiosity a diamond he intends neither to buy nor to sell. Finally, after some time had passed—it could not have been more than a minute, but it felt longer—he said, “Tell me something. Where are you from?”
Copyright © 2007 by Mohsin Hamid

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

What People are Saying About This

Philip Pullman

"I read Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist with increasing admiration. It is beautifully written—what a joy it is to find such intelligent prose, such clarity of thought and exposition—and superbly constructed. The author has managed to tighten the screw of suspense almost without our being aware it is happening, and the result is a tale of enormous tension. I read a lot of thrillers—or rather I start reading a lot of thrillers, and put most of them down—but this is more exciting than any thriller I've read for a long time, as well as being a subtle and elegant analysis of the state of our world today. I was enormously impressed."

Mira Nair

"A searing and powerful account of a Pakistani in New York after 9/11."

From the Publisher


"A rare glimpse into modern-day Pakistan . . . The voices that emerge are sarcastic and sad, a lively lament . . . reminiscent of V. S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie."—CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"Stunning . . . [Hamid] has created a hip page-turner about the mysterious country that both created the sophisticated Benazir Bhutto and hanged her father."—LOS ANGELES TIMES

Kiran Desai

"A brilliant book. With spooky restraint and masterful control, Hamid unpicks the underpinnings of the most recent episode of distrust between East and West. But this book does not merely excel in capturing a developing bitterness. The narrative is balanced by a love as powerful as the sinister forces gathering, even when it recedes into a phantom of hope. It is this balance, and the constant negotiation of the political with the personal, that creates a nuanced and complex portrait of a reluctant fundamentalist."

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

  1. At the beginning of the book, Changez says that his companion's "bearing" gives him away as an American. What does Changez mean by this? What are his deeper implications?
  2. What do we learn about the American who sits across the table from Changez? How does Hamid convey this information? What do we never learn about the American? Consider how what we don't know about him influences our understanding of both Changez's monologue and the author's intent.
  3. Who is Jim, and why does he take such a liking to Changez? What do they have in common? Is his sympathy for Changez genuine?
  4. In Chapter 5, Changez is in a hotel in Manila, packing his suitcase and watching television, when he sees the towers of the World Trade Center collapse. "And then I smiled," he confesses. Explore this scene as the turning point of the novel — in terms of plot, character, scope, and tone.
  5. In Chile, Changez befriends the head of the publishing company his firm is there to value. Why are the two men drawn to each other? Why has Changez suddenly become so disinterested in his work? Who were the janissaries? Why does their history resonate so strongly with Changez?
  6. Discuss the two meanings of "fundamentalist" Hamid's title plays on — the first religious, the second suggested by Underwood Samson's business commitment to "Focus on the fundamentals." What do the different meanings suggest about the novel's themes?
  7. The Reluctant Fundamentalist turns out to be quite a page-turner — a political thriller that builds to a memorable conclusion. What exactly happens at the end of the novel? What clues or foreshadowings tipped you off as to how the book would end? Why does Changez tell this stranger his story?
  8. Since 9/11, there has been a growing trend in contemporary fiction to write about the tragedy of that day and its aftermath. Compare The Reluctant Fundamentalist with some other "9/11 novels" you have read. What sets it apart or makes it unique?

Customer Reviews

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 215 reviews.
WordsworthGreenwich More than 1 year ago
Customer Reviews The Reluctant Fundamentalist 135 Reviews 5 star: (44) 4 star: (29) 3 star: (32) 2 star: (16) 1 star: (14) Average Customer Review (135 customer reviews) Share your thoughts with other customers Search Customer Reviews Only search this product's reviews > See most helpful viewpoints Most Helpful First | Newest First A Reluctant Counterpoint for Changez, July 29, 2009 By Wordsworth "David" (Greenwich, CT) - See all my reviews I am now sipping a regular coffee at a Borders Cafe near Greenwich, CT after finishing your novel. Why is it that I am so disappointed in your literary work? As a Pakistani, you have come to know the best that America has to offer. Were you not admitted to the Ivy League at Princeton in place of a brilliant but perhaps more appreciative even a disadvantaged American citizen? Did you not then receive a high-paying job at a prestigious New York financial firm and send your earnings to your homeland? Did you not fall in love with a beautiful and intelligent, although psychologically scarred, Princeton woman from New York? Did you not enjoy prime business assignments and bonuses at the expense of your American counterparts, who were downsized during an economic downturn caused by 911 in New York? And yet you sympathize with the 911 attackers. Isn't this odd attitude of yours quite curious? It makes me think. You then become an anti-American advocate in your native land. I suppose, we should be grateful to you for your ubiquitous but most expressive, veiled ingratitude. The waitress comes with my modest bill. She smiles at me. But she is, no doubt, merely seeking a higher tip, wouldn't you agree? I will return your novel to Borders and seek my money back. I ask myself why I am so deeply offended by your novel. The greatest offense is perhaps that you have become so enriched by book sales in America of your very, very short novella. Another kindess from America plus such radiant critical reviews -- it boggles one's mind, does it not, at your opportunity and good fortune in America? I must deem your ingratitude an enigma but I see you shaking your head. Why do you seem so surprised by my natural counterpoint? Have you ever asked yourself what your life would be like if you had never left Lahore for America. Can you honestly deal with your fundamental, personal ingratitude as your homeland indifferently harbors our most mortal enemy in its mystic mountains -- a fervant fundamentalist who killed 3,000 innocent Americans working productively in the same business as you in New York, including many working parents who left widows and orphans behind in my home town only 35 miles away from Ground Zero? Did you not know that I volunteered to feed the firefighters and rescue squads there after the pernicious attack by radical fundamentalists on the Pile and then the Pit at the Twin Towers? Forgive me, but I am fundamentally offended by your creative work. Forgive me, yet again, if I urge my fellow American readers through an obnoxious narrative conceit, so like your own, to forsake your novel utterly and deeply urge them not to buy it.
huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
This book is awful. It ends where it should begin and The author seems to be very anti-American. I will never read any book this author writes again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The best thing about this book is the title. It's downhill after that. So cliché - brilliant but naive Pakistani gets Princeton education, great job, boodles of money only to discover that capitalism can be nasty. Then 9/11,the political chaos and America is fair game for the 'reluctant.' Hamid's single speaker technique is clever in advancing the idea of quieting the beast (America) - the one-sided conversation seems to be saying to the U.S. 'Shut up and listen.' Don't bother with this title.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A more accurate title would be "The Unreluctant Bigot".
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book came highly recommended however when I finally got around to reading it, I realized this book is ruined by a narrator who is not only foolish, but completely selfish. He is given a full ride to Princeton by Princeton. He is given a cushy job in which he earns tons of money and he falls in love with an American girl. Yet, America is evil. After an entire novel in which this man enjoys the fruits America has to offer, he turns around a complains about this country. On top of that, he foolishly falls for a girl who from the very beginning is emotionally unavailable AND does something so demeaning for her that you lose all respect for him. The ending is supposed to be shocking and just ends up disappointing and vague. I would not recommend this book to anyone!
Dorobo More than 1 year ago
The writer uses the device of talking to someone to tell his story. The tension between leaving his country to study in America then obtain a high paying job right out of school is balanced against his emerging feeling of hatred towards America because the threat of invasion from India into his native Pakistan overwhelms him. The novel's setting is from before the Twin Towers attack through America's invasion of Afghanistan and India's threats against Pakistan. One feels sympathy for the young man torn between his new found income and his family's shrinking wealth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although there are numerous bad reviews on here I ask that you not be too deterred. This book has some wonderfully written descriptions, a quite intersting way of presenting itself, and a very thorough and engaging story. What I see to be a pretty common reason for poor reviews is that many people do not agree with the narrator/main character. But one does not have to fully agree with a character in order to appreciate their story. This book will put you in a precarious situation where you will have to think for yourself (oh my!) and make decisions about how far you agree and/or disagree with the narrator as well as his American companion. You will be given a rare view into the ideas, upbringings and insights of a terrorist, whom after finishing this book you might not even be sure that's what he actually his. This story also ends on a large cliff hanger where you are left quite uneasy and unsure about what might have actually happened. I would personally recommend this book if you are capable of being openminded. This does not mean you have to agree with the narrator as I myself did not fully agree with him, but you will atleast have to see his point of view and learn to understand the events that can lead people down a certain road. I would would also like to add a small warning. This book contains a few, almost disturbingly graphic sex scenes so I would not hand this book to a child.
book-worm62 More than 1 year ago
This book was not exactly what I expected. As the ending began to take shape, I found myself able to identify less and less with the storyteller. Maybe because of the culture difference, but it seemed the young man telling the story was really biting the generous hand that was feeding him. I had a hard time figureing out what his romance had to do with the rest of the story. I didn't seem to have much to do with anything else. I found myself getting angry with alot of what sounded like assumptions on the narrator's part, like blaming the United States for Pakistan's trouble with India. I wanted to ask about his country's part in hiding Osama Bin Laudin and his being "pleased" at hearing about the attack on our country. I have not stopped thinking about this book since i finished it a couple of days ago. Of course, that very well might have been the author's intention. I read the book hoping to understand the mindset of someone who goes to these extremes in the name of patriotism, perhaps it is beyond my understanding. I did read this book in record time, I found it very interesting even if I didn't catch all of what the author was trying to convey. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the countries we are involved with and how the people feel about our involvment.
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
This book is written so that the reader feels the author is engaged in a private conversation with him or her. The author tells you on a story of a Pakistani man's love, money and politics in New York pre and post 9/11. The tension builds so that throughout the entire novel the reader is uncertain as to his or her relationship with the author and its outcome.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This author is talented. The story is captivating. The same tired lefty message, 'blame America for all the ills of the world',is disappointing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have both a natural curiosity and a professional interest of other cultures. This book did not disapoint! It is a wonderful read. I was almost angry at the ending... until I stepped away from it for awhile. When you've finished reading the book, step away from it and think about it. Look at it from the perspectives of all those involved. Why did they all feel/react the way they did?
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britsmom7 More than 1 year ago
It took me one page to realize that I'd be getting to bed a lot later than usual. To say much more than this would result in a spoiler alert. This isn't a recreational read; your brain will be whirring away non-stop. The only reason for four stars is that the language (mainly the sentence structure)is a bit formal and it might require close attention; once you become used to it, there's no issue. But be warned, it WILL impact you.
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Beautiful and tragic! A novel that explores the experience of a person who bridges two worlds during a period of American history where to do this, was looked at with suspicion.
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Superbly written as a narrative. The book is gripping and moving at the same time. Had a long after-effect on me.
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Not as interesting as I thought it would be
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