One afternoon in 2007, a young Pakistani man encounters an American in his native city of Lehore, takes him to tea, and tells him the story of his life--his scholarship to Princeton, his first love, his top-tier job at a New York consulting firm, his response to living in America during the 9/11 attacks, and his eventual decision to return to Lehore.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a monologue, one man talking to (or at) another from tea through dinner, dessert, and another cup of tea. Changez narrates his story with almost offputting candor to his nameless, faceless, utterly anonymous American guest. It is brief (perhaps 50,000 words, tops, as a rough guess) and affecting, with interesting ideas about human emotions, our ways of interacting with one another. Certainly worth the afternoon it takes to read.
The narrative is deeply psychological, told to us without interruption by a first person narrator too affable not to trust blindly, whose observations are sharp and thoughtful. Perhaps particularly surprising is his take-home summary of American culture--a culture of fundamentals, or putting aside the larger picture in order to only approach a small and specific task at hand. At his consulting job, Changez (the narrator) was to value a company on their potential worth, just crunching numbers and delivering the result to the client, without concern about who would lose their jobs or what lives would be effected by the result he returned. Ultimately, he could not be this kind of American "fundamentalist"--the surprising origin of the title (or one of them). Hamid's writing is not as subtle as, say, Ishiguro, but is that much more accessible.
There is much to be said further about the book, but it is difficult to do so without revealing plot elements, so I'll stop here and say I highly recommend this book. As for its time-investment-to-brain-value ratio, you simply can't do better.
Anyone who has read and would like to discuss further, please do so in the comments! I'd love to hear your thoughts.