At a café table in Lahore, a Pakistani man begins the tale that has led to his fateful meeting with an uneasy American stranger...
Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. He thrives on the energy of New York, his work at an elite firm, and his budding relationship. For a time, it seems that nothing will stand in the way of his meteoric rise to success. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his relationship crumbling and his exalted status overturned. Allegiances are subsequently unearthed, proving themselves more fundamental than money, power and maybe even love.
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Extract from The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Excuse me, Sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: l 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 stonemaisonry 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 fieids and fellow students who are philosopher-kings in the making.