In the streets of Lahore, Pakistan, a young man, Changez, approaches an unnamed man (for the purposes of his summary, we'll call him the Stranger), and asks, in an unclear combination of extreme politeness and menacing familiarity, if he can be of assistance. Changez says that the Stranger looks American, and escorts him to a nearby cafe, where they drink tea and eat dinner. As afternoon turns into evening, Changez tells the Stranger about his time in the United States.
Changez comes from a respected but declining Pakistani family. Nonetheless, he gets into and attends Princeton University, where he makes excellent grades and acts the part of an exotic foreigner, but secretly works multiple jobs to support himself and his family. He comments to the Stranger that he now sees that Princeton was indoctrinating him into a pro-American mindset—teaching him to use his skills to help American companies—but that he didn’t realize this at the time. Near the end of his senior year, he interviews for a prestigious valuing firm, Underwood Samson, which does analysis to determine the worth of companies. During his interview, Jim, an executive vice president at the firm, learns that Changez is on financial aid, and conceals his economic status from his classmates; Jim tells Changez that he, too, hid his background at Princeton, and gives him a job. Between graduating Princeton and beginning his career at Underwood Samson, Changez goes on a vacation to Greece with Princeton friends and peers. It is here that he meets Erica, a beautiful and charismatic Princeton graduate, with whom he is instantly smitten.
In New York, Changez begins his career at Underwood Samson. He makes friends with another trainee, Wainwright, and wins the admiration of his colleagues and supervisors. Meanwhile, he continues to spend time with Erica, who lives in New York and invites him to parties and dinners. Changez notices that Erica seems deeply lonely, even when she's surrounded by friends, and learns that her boyfriend and childhood friend, Chris, died last year.
While working in Manila, in the Philippines, Changez witnesses the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, and finds himself feeling pleasure at the sight of powerful, arrogant America brought to its knees. Then, on his return flight to New York, he is detained at the airport. He begins to notice and be the subject of increasing racism and discrimination in New York City and at Underwood Samson. Erica, traumatized by 9/11, begins to sink into nostalgia for Chris. One night, Changez and Erica have sex, a “success” Changez achieves partly by telling Erica to pretend that he is Chris. Changez thinks this will bring them closer, but Erica grows increasingly distant from Changez.
Changez, feeling increasingly uncomfortable in New York and the United States as a foreigner after 9/11, travels to Pakistan to see his family, and feels angry with the United States for supporting India's aggression against his home. At the same time, he doesn’t feel entirely Pakistani, either. Later, while traveling to Chile for Underwood Samson, he meets Juan-Batista, the president of a publishing company, who compares Changez to a janissary — a reference to Crusades era warriors who were kidnapped from their own culture, and then forced to fight against it. Changez realizes this is true, that he is doing harm to Pakistan by working for Underwood Samson. He returns to New York in the middle of his assignment. Jim fires him, but seems sympathetic to his struggle. Changez returns to Pakistan, where he lectures at a university and supports anti-American demonstrations, although, he insists, he never encourages violence.
As Changez tells the Stranger his story, he frequently points out that the Stranger seems uncomfortable, and notes that the Stranger has something under his jacket in the exact position where spies keep a gun. The waiter who serves them their food seems angry with the Stranger, but Changez assures the Stranger that there is no danger. Changez then walks the Stranger back to his hotel. As they stand outside, the Stranger notices a group of people, including the waiter, who've been following them, and reaches under his jacket.