The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid was born in Pakistan, but he spent much of his childhood in Palo Alto, California, while his father pursued a PhD at Stanford University. After the age of nine, Hamid returned to Pakistan with his family and attended Aitchison College, a highly prestigious boarding school founded in the late 19th century. At the age of 18, he attended Princeton University, where he studied with the famous writers Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates, and graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors). He attended Harvard Law School, but found it boring. In his spare time, he worked on a novel he had begun writing as an undergraduate at Princeton; in 2000, he published this work, Moth Smoke. Moth Smoke was a success in the United States and a huge hit in Pakistan (it was even adapted as a TV miniseries), enabling Hamid to devote himself to writing full-time. He didn't complete another novel until 2007, when he published The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which reflects his experiences at Princeton. His third and most recent novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, was released in 2013. Hamid writes for dozens of magazines, journals, and newspapers, including the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review. As of May 2015, he is rumored to be working on his fourth novel.
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Historical Context of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Reluctant Fundamentalist explores the world, particularly the United States and Pakistan, during the late 90s and early 2000s. The single most important historical event in the novel is the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11. 2001: Hamid shows how the events of this day inspired the War on Terror in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, as well as the impact of that act on the social world of the United States. The India-Pakistan Standoff of 2001-2002, which makes Changez fear for his family’s safety, is another important event in the novel. Finally, Hamid alludes to the early 2000s recession, which coincided with the dot-com bubble “bursting,” and led to increased unemployment around the world.
Other Books Related to The Reluctant Fundamentalist
In interviews, Hamid has cited several important influences on The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Like Hamid’s novel, Albert Camus’s novel, The Fall, published in 1957, about a man whose fortunes rise and fall in Paris, consists of dramatic monologues, with the protagonist recalling his life and occasionally interrogating his audience. Tayeb Salih’s 1966 novel Season of Migration to the North is another major influence: it tells the story of a Middle Eastern man who travels to the West, is fetishized for his exotic otherness, and eventually leaves his adopted home. The Reluctant Fundamentalist also bears a noticeable resemblance to the frame narrative of The Arabian Nights, in which Scheherazade prolongs her life by telling her executor lengthy, tangential stories.
Key Facts about The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Full Title: The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • When Written: 2001-2006
  • Where Written: London and Lahore
  • When Published: 2007
  • Literary Period: Post-modernism
  • Genre: Bildungsroman
  • Setting: Lahore and New York City
  • Climax: Changez and the Stranger's confrontation (which may not be a confrontation at all) outside the Stranger's hotel
  • Antagonist: Underwood Samson, the United States, possibly the Stranger
  • Point of View: First person monologue (Changez)
Extra Credit for The Reluctant Fundamentalist

A new point of view. Hamid experiments with unusual points of view in his writing. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is written as a dramatic monologue, and his subsequent novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, is one of the few English-language novels written in the second person!

Hamid in Hollywood. In 2012, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was adapted into a film by the acclaimed director Mira Nair.