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The ever-surprising John Updike’s twenty-second novel is a brilliant contemporary fiction that will surely be counted as one of his most powerful. It tells of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and his devotion to Allah and the words of the Holy Qur’an, as expounded to him by a local mosque’s imam. The son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who disappear The ever-surprising John Updike’s twenty-second novel is a brilliant contemporary fiction that will surely be counted as one of his most powerful. It tells of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and his devotion to Allah and the words of the Holy Qur’an, as expounded to him by a local mosque’s imam. The son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who disappeared when he was three, Ahmad turned to Islam at the age of eleven. He feels his faith threatened by the materialistic, hedonistic society he sees around him in the slumping factory town of New Prospect, in northern New Jersey. Neither the world-weary, depressed guidance counselor at Central High School, Jack Levy, nor Ahmad’s mischievously seductive black classmate, Joryleen Grant, succeeds in diverting the boy from what his religion calls the Straight Path. When he finds employment in a furniture store owned by a family of recently immigrated Lebanese, the threads of a plot gather around him, with reverberations that rouse the Department of Homeland Security. But to quote the Qur’an: Of those who plot, God is the best.


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The ever-surprising John Updike’s twenty-second novel is a brilliant contemporary fiction that will surely be counted as one of his most powerful. It tells of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and his devotion to Allah and the words of the Holy Qur’an, as expounded to him by a local mosque’s imam. The son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who disappear The ever-surprising John Updike’s twenty-second novel is a brilliant contemporary fiction that will surely be counted as one of his most powerful. It tells of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and his devotion to Allah and the words of the Holy Qur’an, as expounded to him by a local mosque’s imam. The son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who disappeared when he was three, Ahmad turned to Islam at the age of eleven. He feels his faith threatened by the materialistic, hedonistic society he sees around him in the slumping factory town of New Prospect, in northern New Jersey. Neither the world-weary, depressed guidance counselor at Central High School, Jack Levy, nor Ahmad’s mischievously seductive black classmate, Joryleen Grant, succeeds in diverting the boy from what his religion calls the Straight Path. When he finds employment in a furniture store owned by a family of recently immigrated Lebanese, the threads of a plot gather around him, with reverberations that rouse the Department of Homeland Security. But to quote the Qur’an: Of those who plot, God is the best.

30 review for Terrorist

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    This book doesn't work very well if you were hoping for an explanation of what turns some young American Muslims into terrorists. It works even less well as a thriller. But read it as a long personal letter from seventy-something John Updike and it's pretty good. He no longer understands the teens he sees in the street; he tries to imagine how they think, how they talk and act when they're with each other, and he can't do it. It's as though there's a force field around them that repels his inqui This book doesn't work very well if you were hoping for an explanation of what turns some young American Muslims into terrorists. It works even less well as a thriller. But read it as a long personal letter from seventy-something John Updike and it's pretty good. He no longer understands the teens he sees in the street; he tries to imagine how they think, how they talk and act when they're with each other, and he can't do it. It's as though there's a force field around them that repels his inquisitive mind and won't let him through. It's a disappointment, and there are other, worse disappointments. It has become impossible to find women his own age attractive. Miraculously, some younger chicks are still interested in sharing their beds with him. Sex makes him feel alive and strong for a while. But the emotional connection is missing. He can't be an important person to his lovers, because soon he's going to die. He knows it, and they know it, and after a while they decide to move on. Despite all this, life isn't so bad. He knows how to look at the interesting and beautiful things there are all around him, grass pushing up through the concrete in a parking lot, sun flashing off a roof at the end of a rainy afternoon, a beetle lying helplessly on its back and trying to get right side up again, the feel of driving a well-maintained truck. He can see them from a perspective he's spent seventy years developing and turn them into elegant sentences which capture some of that beauty for his readers. They are receding away from him into the black hole of the future, moving faster and faster as they approach its event horizon, but his words can still reach them if they pause and concentrate, and maybe they will be changed a little at a crucial moment when it will make a difference. It keeps him writing. I see some people complaining that not enough happened in Terrorist, but nothing needed to happen. That's not what it's about.

  2. 4 out of 5

    brian

    i’ve been an atheist as long as i can remember and my life, in part, has been a feigned attempt toward belief. i will never believe and know this, so i scramble toward god as a tightrope walker over a net of godlessness. the point, i guess, is to get as close as possible to something i know i’ll never reach; a more sophisticated (or not) form of a kid throwing a fit after having learned that santa claus is just some miserable minimum wage worker with a fake white beard and boozy breath. radical i’ve been an atheist as long as i can remember and my life, in part, has been a feigned attempt toward belief. i will never believe and know this, so i scramble toward god as a tightrope walker over a net of godlessness. the point, i guess, is to get as close as possible to something i know i’ll never reach; a more sophisticated (or not) form of a kid throwing a fit after having learned that santa claus is just some miserable minimum wage worker with a fake white beard and boozy breath. radical islam is particularly fascinating to me as it’s all about the endgame -- in the form, of course, of a global caliphate or orgying it up with a bunch of virgins. i remember when the nytimes printed the first pictures of the hijackers, i’d stare into the printed eyes of mohammad atta… he seemed pure evil, of course, but also imbued with some kind of secret. but that’s bullshit – a variation of the kuleshov effect. nonetheless, one wonders what it takes to be able to sit in a cockpit watching the towers grow larger and larger as you push that plane harder and harder, knowing you’re minutes, now seconds, now miliseconds, from being totally vaporized. the 9/11 hijackers are repellent, naturally, but in some kind of way one is almost enviably curious. to believe in something, anything, with such furious attachment, is attractive. i’m intensely curius about these people with such courage to die in the name of their cause. with these pure islamic warriors so critical of america’s excesses… who spent the night before their death at a strip club*. so i read all i could about the hijackers and bin laden and zawahiri and sayyid qtub (who is credited as the father of modern radical islam) to try and understand the world around me, but also to understand why and how these people came to believe so strongly in all this bullshit. and, of course, lots of this shit is political and historical and they stoke the fires of religion to keep the drums of war going… but lots of ‘em are true-blue nutball koran-thumping maniacs. paul berman wrote eloquently and with tremendous insight about sayyid qtub in his great book terror and liberalism. as did lawrence wright in, perhaps the best book on the subject, the looming tower. as did martin amis. and the shit is just weird. it’s weird with all these guys, but qtub seems the weirdest. and i’m pretty certain qtub gets the award for the single most self-loathing homosexual in the history of planet earth (and, who knows, maybe paradise). as with most religious zealots, qtub hated women. and his writings about his time in america (he went to college here) are fantastic! he writes in detail about american women’s sluttishness in dress and speech and action (this is the 1950s!). he recounts stories about big-breasted blondes coming on to him (um… okaaaay) and him being repulsed. and, of course, there are the stories about mohammad atta dressing in drag in order to go into an office and receive a grant or his leaving explicit instructions not to allow his mother to attend his funeral as a women would sully the scene. nice. anyway, all these stories are wildly fascinating. incredibly. with all that eros and thanos and suicide and repression and self-loathing homosexuality and just utter fucking strangeness, how could it not be? it seems that only hollywood could make that kinda shit boring. guess not. updike tells the story of ahmed ashmawy, half egyptian, half irish, growing up and radicalized by shaikh rashid in new jersey. and here’s the thing: the book is not as bad as they made it out to be. but in a way it’s worse. it’s just dull and incredibly unimaginative. and kind of pointless. it doesn't make sense as updike’s made a career of probing the american psyche and exploring the countless ways americans fill that god-shaped hole. he’s written good and great books about people so desperate for existential recognition they sell it all and move to an ashram, they attempt to use mathematics to prove the existence of god, they bury themselves in sex and bad behavior, they run away from their families, etc… look. my own lack of interest doesn’t permit me to further describe the character of ahmad (or the ridiculous plotting)... he really is that dull. and not as a person (i’m sure many suicide bombers are less fun that the keynote speaker at an insurance seminar), but as a character. he’s just there. and one doesn’t give a fuck or get anything other than hollow islamic platitudes that could’ve been picked up from a week’s worth of scouring american newsrags in the few months following 9/11. maybe it’s because updike fell out of touch with the world? perhaps he didn’t do the research (but his earlier novel the coup nailed a marxist islamic dictator pretty damn well)? or was he just burnt after so many decades of novel writing? or maybe the cancer that killed him two years later was hard at work. but in all of terrorist i found not one passage that spoke to the angst and existential panic that a radicalized terrorist must feel (or an interesting take on the lack thereof) that i find on nearly every page of a story or novel updike writes about boring new england middle-class schlubs. i guess updike finds transcendence in the mundane, yet creates something mundane out of the transcendent? * is this true? it sounds in line with the typical repressed (homo)sexuality and hypocracy of these wicked assholes, but if it’s true how come we haven’t seen candi and scarlet describing those lapdances to leslie stahl?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    Oh John, oh John. You ignored the idea of "write what you know." What you know well, and write beautifully about, are WASP middle-aged men of a certain socio-economic group. What you don't know is African-Americans and Muslims. You never shoulda wandered from your own back yard. This book is so full of breath-taking stereotypes that I cringed. Gack. Oh John, oh John. You ignored the idea of "write what you know." What you know well, and write beautifully about, are WASP middle-aged men of a certain socio-economic group. What you don't know is African-Americans and Muslims. You never shoulda wandered from your own back yard. This book is so full of breath-taking stereotypes that I cringed. Gack.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    The term "radicalization" gets used a lot in the media; John Updike takes us behind the term and shows us the process. 18 year old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy becomes an example of both the process and the steps that bring someone to the 'gate' of The Straight Path...a path that will lead to uncharted territory. The term "radicalization" gets used a lot in the media; John Updike takes us behind the term and shows us the process. 18 year old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy becomes an example of both the process and the steps that bring someone to the 'gate' of The Straight Path...a path that will lead to uncharted territory.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    John Updike has earned a mantel full of awards, including a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. He knows people and he knows how tough even the most mundane lives can be. And Updike knows how to write. At his best when writing of “normal” people living flawed, empathetic lives, Updike stretches himself in his latest novel, “Terrorist.” He writes the story of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Mulloy, the American son of an Egyptian exchange student father who ran off when Ahmad was three without so much as John Updike has earned a mantel full of awards, including a Pulitzer and a National Book Award. He knows people and he knows how tough even the most mundane lives can be. And Updike knows how to write. At his best when writing of “normal” people living flawed, empathetic lives, Updike stretches himself in his latest novel, “Terrorist.” He writes the story of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Mulloy, the American son of an Egyptian exchange student father who ran off when Ahmad was three without so much as a postcard, and of an Irish-American mother who raised him. Ahmad, a good boy, a quiet boy, has come under the influence of a stern Imam in his hometown of New Prospect, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City. Ahmad flourishes in Islam, the religion of his absent father, and he finds he “loves prayer, the sensation of pouring the silent voice in his head into a silence waiting at his side,” the God of Mohammed. Updike plays the strong influence of Ahmad’s Imam against those of Ahmad’s mother Teresa, Jack Levy, his Jewish high school guidance counselor and Joryleen Grant, an African-American classmate with whom he has developed a mutual attraction. The novel’s title proclaims the direction his story is headed, and somehow Updike manages to get the reader into the head of an America hating, radical Islamic, who is at least somewhat sympathetic. “Terrorist” both indicts America and offers it a dirty, smudged, figurative valentine. Most impressively, John Updike brings us inside a fringe element of Islam and shows vividly why we are hated and why they want us dead; it all makes a convoluted kind of sense, and that makes it scary. P.S. It's been five days since I finished "Terrorist" and I can't put it out of my mind. What I see on the TV news, read in the newspaper and hear at church are colored by it. Radical Islamics are like some Christians, I think. Instead of searching their holy books (Bible/Koran) for meaning and truth and a way to please God, they choose for themselves their own truths and predjudices, and then search their books for justification. We Christians found plenty of justification, particularly the Old Testament, for the crusades, the inquisition, the death camps and witch burning, among others. And today the fringes of our religions can justify anti-semitism, homophobia, wars of freedom, car bombings and mass murder - pretty much whatever we choose - while God mourns our stupidity, loves us, and hopes we will figure it all out.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jaime

    Okay, I didn’t exactly finish this one, but I’m finished with it. I gave it 105 pages. Do you want to know what happened in 105 pages? Ahmad met with his guidance counselor, went to church, and went to a lesson with his Qur’an teacher. That’s it. I was so bored with this that I couldn’t even bring myself to care about the blatant anti-Americanism and misogynism. The red light started flashing when I hit the 18 page description of a church mass (or whatever it’s called when it’s not a Catholic ch Okay, I didn’t exactly finish this one, but I’m finished with it. I gave it 105 pages. Do you want to know what happened in 105 pages? Ahmad met with his guidance counselor, went to church, and went to a lesson with his Qur’an teacher. That’s it. I was so bored with this that I couldn’t even bring myself to care about the blatant anti-Americanism and misogynism. The red light started flashing when I hit the 18 page description of a church mass (or whatever it’s called when it’s not a Catholic church). By the time I hit the 11 pages describing his Qur’an lesson, I was more than done. I need some plot!

  7. 5 out of 5

    E. C. Koch

    I walked into this expecting not to like it. Updike is an author I feel pretty comfortable referring to pejoratively as an “old white guy,” which comes packed with a matrix of assumptions about his ability to write non-male, non-white, non-old characters with due sensitivity and intelligence and authority. Now, Updike is definitely an old white guy, but this book, it turns out, is really good, in part because my expectations weren’t met. Terrorist is about Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy, a half-Irish, hal I walked into this expecting not to like it. Updike is an author I feel pretty comfortable referring to pejoratively as an “old white guy,” which comes packed with a matrix of assumptions about his ability to write non-male, non-white, non-old characters with due sensitivity and intelligence and authority. Now, Updike is definitely an old white guy, but this book, it turns out, is really good, in part because my expectations weren’t met. Terrorist is about Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy, a half-Irish, half-Egyptian, American teenager who, at the age of eleven, decides to lean in to his father’s culture’s faith, and become a Muslim. From that point forward he’s led by his imam, Shaikh Rashid, to an ever-more-extreme understanding of Islam, and by the time Ahmad is a senior in high school, when the novel proper begins, he’s incapable of thinking outside the strict limitations of Wahhabi dogma (and regularly says stuff like “There is no end of devilish contortions once human beings feel free to compete with God and to create themselves”) and elects to take a job as a truck driver for a local furniture business, rather than go to college where he fears his faith will be weakened, after graduation. This job, arranged by Rashid, puts Ahmad in contact with Charlie Chehab, who teaches Ahmad to drive the truck and, through a series of roadway conversations, determines whether Ahmad’s ready to die for his faith. Feeling pressure to prove the purity of his convictions to both Charlie and Rashid, Ahmad agrees to drive a truck filled with a ton of explosive material into the Lincoln Tunnel (the novel’s set in New Jersey) during Monday rush hour and blow it up. So the tension builds to the grand dénouement when Ahmad avoids getting caught by the feds on his way to pick up the truck, picks up the truck, heads toward the highway where he sees his high school guidance counselor, Jack Levy, flagging him down, picks up Levy, and listens while Levy, whose sister-in-law is the undersecretary of Homeland Security, explains to Ahmad that he’s been set up by Charlie, an undercover informant, to take the fall for a sting operation that was never supposed to get this far. Ahmad, now in the Tunnel at the point where he’s supposed to press the ignition button, can’t do it, and he and Levy, now in Manhattan, turn around and go home. Okay, so this certainly has the whiff of a boiling pot about it, and the ending is, well, messy (the guidance counselor? Really, John?), but still and all, Terrorist is doing some cool stuff. More than anything else, the novel (I know this is cheesy) is about the need we have for guidance. Ahmad’s father, we come to find out, leaves his young family when Ahmad is only three; Ahmad’s (single) mother is a nurse who works crazy hours; Ahmad is an only child. The structure that Ahmad gets from Islam is what other kids in the book get from sports, or gangs, or, in at least one case, the Church choir. These same kids that Jack Levy bemoans for being undisciplined and undisciplinable, actually, as all the parenting books tell us, crave structure and will take it where they can find it, even if it’s outside of the home (as it often is). What Updike manages to do, then, is present the phenomenon of terrorism as a systemic problem born from, as Updike frames it, children who grow up without parents. This, of course, is not to say that all parentless children become terrorists, or that one needs biological parents to avoid becoming a terrorist, or anything like that. What I mean here is that one of the conditions of possibility necessary to producing what we call terrorism is the absence of guidance from adults free from ulterior motive (in other words, “parents,” a term I’m using loosely here). To his credit, and this is one of those expectations that Updike didn’t meet that made this book so good, Updike isn’t shy about providing answers for the causes of this global parentlessness, regularly referring to the disastrous ramifications of perpetual war and late-stage capitalism throughout. Ahmad, finally, is a stand-in for cultures that are forced to grasp after the structure and self-worth provided by the cultural equivalent of caring parents, what we might call disinterested institutions and what in the novel is presented (again, cheesily) as the role of the guidance counselor. The discomfiting conclusion I’m forced to draw from all this is that in a world where there are no truly disinterested institutions (Levy, the sort-of hero, has an affair with Ahmad’s mom, by the way), where we’re all the children of shitty parents, we’re also all, at least implicitly, terrorists. We can ding Updike for a contrived plot, but his message has weight.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Terrorist is John Updike's last novel. The novel opens and closes with Ahmad Allowy's inner thought, "These Devils seek to take away my God," and, at the end, "These Devils have taken away my God." Ahmad is a devout Muslim youth living in New Prospect, NJ, about to graduate from high school. He's living with his white mother, an artist, whose life is not quite as structured as Ahmad's. Ahmad is an outsider at school - his religious devotion is at odds with the loose, irreverent culture he sees Terrorist is John Updike's last novel. The novel opens and closes with Ahmad Allowy's inner thought, "These Devils seek to take away my God," and, at the end, "These Devils have taken away my God." Ahmad is a devout Muslim youth living in New Prospect, NJ, about to graduate from high school. He's living with his white mother, an artist, whose life is not quite as structured as Ahmad's. Ahmad is an outsider at school - his religious devotion is at odds with the loose, irreverent culture he sees all around him. While he scorns this culture, he is peaceful and respectful of it, even accompanying his friend to her Christian church one Sunday to see her sing. One of the most radical leaps the novel takes is when Ahmad consents to become the martyr in a plot to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. It seemed from the outset the Charlie Chehab, a fellow-muslim who befriended Ahmad at Excellency Home Furnishings (and whose father was the owner of Excellency) had lured Ahmad into the plot to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. Charlie is one of the novel's most interesting characters - a Muslim who seems, most of the time, not-so-Muslim. His interests are in fornication, television, commercials, and he is unusually well-seasoned in U.S. history, particularly the history of the American Revolution against the British. Charlie's most important speech in the book compares the militias of the American Revolution, spearheaded by General Washington, to the jihad of radical Muslims against America. The seeds of Charlie's true U.S. alliance are embedded in this speech, and, after all, this is the speech that convinced Ahmad of the validity of jihad. It was also with Charlie, overlooking the New York City skyline, that Ahmad made his vow to join jihad, to die fo God if need be, and to wage war gainst America. Once Amhad realizes that Charlie is a CIA operative he still does not waver from his intentions to activiate the ammonium nitrate in the back of his truck and blow the Lincoln Tunnel sky-high. The turning point, when Ahmad lets go of his determination to destroy, is an apparently accidental recollection of the 56th Sura, where the Prophet speaks of "the moment when the soul of a dying man shall come up into his throat. That moment is here. The journey, the mirai. Buraq is ready, his shining white wings rustling, unfolding." Yet in the same sura, The Event, God asks, "We created you: will you not credit us? Behold the semen you discharge: did you create it, or We? God does not destroy: it was He who made the world" (p.306)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lark

    How is this guy so successful? This book is crap. Young utterly stereotypical Muslim kid who has an Irish mother (so that updike could describe her hair and temper every 3 pages) is seduced into a terrorist cell. Also included are stereotypical, completely unbelievable Black high-school aged reluctant prostitutes and stereotypical, completely unbelievable sympathetic and apparently telepathic English teachers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    The main trouble with Terrorist is in the voicing of the characters. The anti-hero, Ahmad, is a half-Arab American teenager who is groomed to become a terrorist by the imam at a local mosque. In many ways, besides his faith, he is a typical teen, self-concerned, withdrawn, and amazed at the hypocricy of adults. Yet Updike, for whatever reason, inserts his stodgy authorial voice into Ahmad's body, making him sound like a geriatric middle-eastern diplomat. Despite having grown up in America, Ahmad The main trouble with Terrorist is in the voicing of the characters. The anti-hero, Ahmad, is a half-Arab American teenager who is groomed to become a terrorist by the imam at a local mosque. In many ways, besides his faith, he is a typical teen, self-concerned, withdrawn, and amazed at the hypocricy of adults. Yet Updike, for whatever reason, inserts his stodgy authorial voice into Ahmad's body, making him sound like a geriatric middle-eastern diplomat. Despite having grown up in America, Ahmad speaks in a clipped, formal English that no teenager, no matter how serious, could ever affect. The teens at his highschool fare far worse, however, as Updike's take on modern slang is laughably stereotyped and behind the times. The plot, both in terms of narrative and the terrorist scheme, is supported by flimsy coincidences and happenstance encounters. It is only in the character of Jack Levy, a lapsed Jew and guidance counselor, that Updike regains his footing. Dwelling in familiar Updike territory--the failed marriages of the middle class--Levy is a tired man with an overweight wife and a penchant for brooding over the meaninglessness of his final years. His character feels natural, but predictability abounds--a trist with Ahmad's mother, the inevitable end of the affair, and a last-second bid to stop Ahmad from martyrdom. Updike sets out to show Ahmad--a terrorist--as human, a person whose faith is not absolute, whose convictions are broken, and who is ultimately a victim of extremism and political forces over which he has no control. Ahmad, however, is stiff, a robotic idealogue who spouts formal dictums when cornered or confronted. Drained of blood, the story lacks a pulse.

  11. 5 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    I just can't do it. I tried, honestly. I got to page ten. I'm moving on. Updated to shelve in various suitable places I did not have available in 2010. I just can't do it. I tried, honestly. I got to page ten. I'm moving on. Updated to shelve in various suitable places I did not have available in 2010.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stacey

    Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of September 11th, and if you really want to scare the daylights out of yourself in memoriam, then John Updike’s Terrorist can help you out with that. It is a creepy, timely, get-under-your-skin-and-make-you-itch kind of novel. But before I get to all that, I must digress a little. John Updike is also the author of one of my favorite short stories to teach to high school students, titled “A&P.” Notice how I said it’s one of my favorites, not theirs. First of all, Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of September 11th, and if you really want to scare the daylights out of yourself in memoriam, then John Updike’s Terrorist can help you out with that. It is a creepy, timely, get-under-your-skin-and-make-you-itch kind of novel. But before I get to all that, I must digress a little. John Updike is also the author of one of my favorite short stories to teach to high school students, titled “A&P.” Notice how I said it’s one of my favorites, not theirs. First of all, there are no vampires in it, so strike one. Second of all, they have no idea what an A&P is, and if there is one thing of which teenagers are certain, it is that anything prior to their lifetime is decidedly lame. Lastly and most importantly, they complain of a lack of action. This, coming from the same group of kids who will read 267 straight pages of Edward and Bella staring at each other. Now, tell me if this isn’t one of the best starts to a story you’ve ever heard: “In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.” They like that—it sort of reminds them of "Jersey Shore" or something—but they don’t like where it goes. Our hero and narrator, Sammy, is a young man not unlike them. He has a crappy job as a store clerk and among his major life goals is to impress girls. In walks his chance. If you want to read the story you can find it easily online. Otherwise, spoiler alert: in an attempt to woo the chicks and be a hero, the young man quits his job. This is a life-altering choice, and also one that reaps zero benefits. The story ends less promising than it began: “…and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.” You can see where a kid might object to this. If girls walk into a place in bathing suits, their MTV-trained brains have taught them this story should end with Sammy and all three girls in a hot tub. They do not want to hear how life is balanced on a spinning dime, and how one flick of Fate, dressed like girls in swimsuits, can send your life toppling over with one little choice. So basically, I like teaching it because I enjoy crushing young souls. No seriously, the real reason I like teaching it—and here’s where my tie-in with Terrorist comes in—is that I like talking about the idea of heroism with them. What is the point of it? When is it worth it? Is it possible to be a hero and a fool simultaneously? These are questions they like answering, and as a result, often decide that they don’t hate John Updike as much as, say, Calculus. It’s a small victory. While reading Terrorist, I was struck by the similarities between Sammy of “A&P” and the antihero of the novel, Ahmad. Updike wrote about Sammy in 1961. This novel was written nearly fifty years later, in a different world really, yet the young men are both classically flawed in a Shakespearean tragic hero kind of way. You want to like the guy, even if he is a stupid idiot, yet you see the downward spiral coming as clearly as Lindsay Lohan’s. The crucial and tricky choice that Updike makes is to create a sympathetic character in his "terrorist." Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy is a high school senior in New Jersey at the book’s start. He is a serious young man who has devoted his life to Islam—not by birth, but by choice. His Egyptian father disappeared when he was three, and he’s being raised by his ex-Catholic-now-atheist Irish mother, who struggles as a nurse’s aide to make ends meet. Ahmad is principled, disciplined, and clean-cut in a context that is anything but. He is surrounded by students and adults alike who are fallen, lost, and lacking faith in both humanity and God. Looking through the eyes of Ahmad, it is easy to see why he thinks that America is a lost nation. Even more fascinating is the chance to understand why he might think that blowing some stuff up might be a valid solution to the problem. Terrorist is really a novel about characters: Ahmad, his mother, his guidance counselor, his Islamic teacher, his boss, and, perhaps most enticingly, an African-American girl at his school who tempts him in the sinful ways of the world. Suffice it to say that she makes the girls in “A&P” look like nuns. All of these people are vastly damaged, including Ahmad’s Islamic teacher who has convinced Ahmad of a cause worth dying for: to kill infidels. Now, look at the word “infidel” for a moment. We usually hear this shouted in either a frightening or joking context, as in, “Death to the infidels!” It carries a connotation of insanity. But what it means, quite simply, is unfaithful. Many religions, not just Islam, believe that lack of faith is the worst sin you can commit. It is the downfall of the world, right? When you witness how Ahmad is instructed, it is tempting to want to use a word like “brainwashed.” But is it really so different from what Christians believe? Now you may want to argue that Christians don’t go around killing people for what they do or don’t believe…but I would encourage you to open your history books. It is these kinds of bigger questions that make Updike's novel worth reading. Whether Ahmad carries through with the plot, and why or why not, is the central question of the novel, so I won’t go into specifics. But what Updike accomplishes here is a portrait of a home-grown terrorist—a citizen, a boy who has mostly grown up in a post-9/11 United States and sees nothing redeeming in it. He shows with frightening clarity how easy it would be for such a boy to “be a hero” in the eyes of a sect of the Muslim world, and to devastate a nation in the process. But what is even more remarkable is that you find yourself, for once, not asking why? Why would someone do such a thing? The motive of 9/11 still seems to mystify most of the country, yet in one slim novel, Updike slaps it on the counter, ugly as a fishmonger. And it’s not that you agree exactly, but you can see why someone might do it. Just like you can see how Sammy would strip off his apron and foolishly stride out the door of the A&P for a meaningless cause. Plus, not to spoil anything, but the book could probably even end with that same sad sentence from “A&P”: “…and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.” Since this is a review, I should probably get around to telling you whether this is good or not. It’s a tricky question. Yes…but. Terrorist is Serious Literature, complete with sometimes painstakingly slow descriptions, and some would absolutely complain of a lack of action and vampires (but the word “breasts” probably appears more than the word “the,” so that might help). It is thought-provoking, but definitely a disturbing bummer. To “like” this book is tantamount to liking a salad: it might be good for you, and might even be delicious for a salad, but it’s still pretty boring in comparison to some chili cheese fries (in which case you might want to try something with a perkier title for starters). The good news is that it’s not very long, so if this kind of thing interests you, as it does me, then it takes little commitment to add some stuff to your dinner conversation repertoire. After all, this is not an issue that has lost steam with time. The flames keep getting fanned. Muslims want to build a mosque near Ground Zero. A Christian pastor wants to burn the Quran tomorrow. I still can’t bring a bottle of shampoo onto an airplane. Could an attack like 9/11 happen again? You betcha. Will it? We all pray not. But erasing the possibility means erasing the hatred, the intolerance, and the ignorance on both sides. And for that, we need a real hero.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carol Storm

    A teenage punk with an aimless need to fit in nearly drifts into the life of a domestic terrorist. But have no fear! The kid's kindly high school guidance counselor snaps him out of it by gently breaking the news (at the very last minute) that the kid's mother is a big fat hoe. Huh? The depressing thing isn't how cowardly and dishonest Updike is. It's the way he patronizes everyone in the story, all women, all ethnic groups, all non-whites, while acting as if he's a great guy for clapping on the A teenage punk with an aimless need to fit in nearly drifts into the life of a domestic terrorist. But have no fear! The kid's kindly high school guidance counselor snaps him out of it by gently breaking the news (at the very last minute) that the kid's mother is a big fat hoe. Huh? The depressing thing isn't how cowardly and dishonest Updike is. It's the way he patronizes everyone in the story, all women, all ethnic groups, all non-whites, while acting as if he's a great guy for clapping on the mask of phony good-will when he's plainly burning with self-pity and resentment. And then there's the desperate sentimentality about the past. Lots of people talk about dying on their feet, but this is one guy who literally insists on dying on his knees, worshiping all the false gods of his youth and middle age, having learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Now you can make the case that America is a great country and the terrorists have got it all wrong. But if your idea of America is fat housewives sitting around the house eating cookies and watching soap operas, whose side are you really on? If anyone's going to defend American values from the Muslim hordes, it shouldn't be a man who hates America as much as John Updike did.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Gallup

    Although it had been decades since I read anything by Updike, I still have clear memories of his short stories about the Maples, his Rabbit series, and The Centaur. Like others, I’ve been guilty of pigeonholing him as being preoccupied with conventional middle-class people and their domestic issues (divorce, etc.). I also sensed that it wasn’t fair to do that. In terms of craft, his use of literary devices is so smooth that one can read right past something that’s exceedingly clever without even Although it had been decades since I read anything by Updike, I still have clear memories of his short stories about the Maples, his Rabbit series, and The Centaur. Like others, I’ve been guilty of pigeonholing him as being preoccupied with conventional middle-class people and their domestic issues (divorce, etc.). I also sensed that it wasn’t fair to do that. In terms of craft, his use of literary devices is so smooth that one can read right past something that’s exceedingly clever without even noticing it--only to have an a-ha moment when thinking back the next day. (That at least has been my experience more than once.) His prose can at times approach poetry, without ever calling attention to itself. In terms of subject matter, a very unconventional outside world often intrudes into the lives he depicts. It certainly does in Terrorist. Ahmad is an alienated kid graduating from high school in a seedy working-class New Jersey town. He has no memory of his father, an Egyptian immigrant who impregnated a local girl and then disappeared. His mother has always been a rebel against authority. Affecting a bohemian lifestyle, she has never offered him much guidance. Repelled by everything in rudderless American society, and nurturing idealized “dreams of his father,” Ahmad began as an adolescent to seek out other influences. (Had Updike written this a couple years more recently, I would have suspected him of intentionally modeling Ahmad on the early life of a certain well-known politician.) As the story opens, Ahmad is the only remaining follower of a radical imam, who is carefully grooming him to strike a blow for Islam against the infidel West. The other main character, and would-be influence on Ahmad, is a guidance counselor from his school, an elderly secular Jew with plenty of problems of his own. He doesn’t meet Ahmad until just before graduation, but perceives immediately that this is a kid with unusual potential. He’s shaken out of his despondency because, even without knowing the details, he’s sure that potential is not being directed constructively. Unfortunately, Ahmad has no interest in anything he has to say. It’s really a great story, beautifully told and full of insight into two incompatible world views and characters who live and breathe.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katecoffman

    Our book group read this last month, and I think I'm the only one who really liked it. Updike's writing is, as always, wonderful--great descriptions of his main characters, a 17-yr-old h.s. senior who is half-Irish and half-middle Eastern and who becomes a devout Muslim, his mother, a would-be artist, and his h.s. guidance counselor, 60+ and Jewish. The kid, of course, gets pulled into a terrorist cell, and . . . It occurred to me later that the title may be ironic-- Karma, read it just for the w Our book group read this last month, and I think I'm the only one who really liked it. Updike's writing is, as always, wonderful--great descriptions of his main characters, a 17-yr-old h.s. senior who is half-Irish and half-middle Eastern and who becomes a devout Muslim, his mother, a would-be artist, and his h.s. guidance counselor, 60+ and Jewish. The kid, of course, gets pulled into a terrorist cell, and . . . It occurred to me later that the title may be ironic-- Karma, read it just for the wonderful picture of the burned-out guidance counselor--you will sooo recognize him!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    In 2006, the Don of American Literature was finally ready to address the events of 9/11. I recall that this was a time, for American artists, of numbness, of complete loss of hope and faith in the humanity we as artists struggle so tirelessly to portray, to express, to challenge, and to understand. As tons of debris were being hauled from World Trade Center Plaza, and the place was being dusted off and readied for a new era, so were America’s artists hauling out their own psychic detritus, in so In 2006, the Don of American Literature was finally ready to address the events of 9/11. I recall that this was a time, for American artists, of numbness, of complete loss of hope and faith in the humanity we as artists struggle so tirelessly to portray, to express, to challenge, and to understand. As tons of debris were being hauled from World Trade Center Plaza, and the place was being dusted off and readied for a new era, so were America’s artists hauling out their own psychic detritus, in some cases examining it closely, and dusting off their souls and their artists’ tools and figuring out how to respond. For John Updike, arguably the most prolific great writer of the 20th century, and now into the 21st, that response was Terrorist, a novel that, despite its ominous title, is not a grand sweep over the most vile of cancers on modern humanity, but rather a small and personal tale of a single boy. And this might be the worst thing about this book, which is a great book: the title struck me in such a way that the book (did I mention that it is a truly great book?) sat on my shelf for years before I finally picked it up. Setting aside the fact that that fate befalls many of the books on my shelves, due to my slow reading pace, I regret that I didn’t pick up the book because it is not only a page-turner, it is also a thought-provoking work that challenges our American sensibilities while at the same time honoring them. In two parallel, intersecting narratives, Updike gives us America through the eyes of a jaded and aging Jewish-American high school guidance counselor, Jack Levy, and a devout and dogmatic Arab-American high school graduate, Ahmad Mulloy. The menacing drive of the story is Ahmad’s descent, under the sway of a charismatic Imam at the local mosque, into the life of a devoted jihadist, and ultimately a terrorist. Through Ahmad, who is largely an innocent despite his devotion to the Imam’s violent interpretations of the Quran, we get a perspective on the jihadist’s worldview that is well-informed and respectful of Islamic thought, but by no means sympathetic. This young character is, in many ways, similar to the typical American reader in that his understanding of Islam is just being formed, as is ours. Jack Levy, on the other hand, is the American Liberal in defeat, suffering the ravages of age as well as the ravages of the time, doing his best to find peace with the former and stand up in his own small way against the latter. Within the juxtaposition and intertwining of these two narratives, Updike exposes and mashes together even more competing and stereotype-shattering themes, and in so doing, shines a bright light on a dark world. We come away with not only a greater understanding of the drives that might lead a young Muslim to jihad, but also a new familiarity with our own society and the interplay between our aspirations as Americans and those of the terrorist. It is a book that helps us find within ourselves an understanding of what has happened, and to begin the process of moving on.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Soror

    It was hard for me to finish this novel and this was due to the fact that Updike really didn't know what he was talking about through out his Novel .his interpretation of Islam was based on "the steriotype ' kind of Muslim he miss used and miss interpreted a religion of billions of people . I just want to to talk about his use of El hotama which is in the Muslims Holly book "El qoran" and other words from the qoran I noticed how he didn't translate it's words correctly and also how he omitted the It was hard for me to finish this novel and this was due to the fact that Updike really didn't know what he was talking about through out his Novel .his interpretation of Islam was based on "the steriotype ' kind of Muslim he miss used and miss interpreted a religion of billions of people . I just want to to talk about his use of El hotama which is in the Muslims Holly book "El qoran" and other words from the qoran I noticed how he didn't translate it's words correctly and also how he omitted the first section of the El hotama ...it was really disturbing .. I hope I get to read more of updiks works because I just feel that it wasn't the right one to start with ..

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    Terrorism is on everyone’s mind these days and so I wondered how Updike would treat the subject in this book written post 9/11 but before the more recent spate of terrorist attacks that have extended to countries outside the United States. Ahmad is a US citizen, born in that country of an Irish-American mother and an absentee Egyptian father. Despite being raised by his mother, he is drawn to his father’s faith and is schooled by the shadowy imam Sheikh Rashid to follow the Straight Path of restr Terrorism is on everyone’s mind these days and so I wondered how Updike would treat the subject in this book written post 9/11 but before the more recent spate of terrorist attacks that have extended to countries outside the United States. Ahmad is a US citizen, born in that country of an Irish-American mother and an absentee Egyptian father. Despite being raised by his mother, he is drawn to his father’s faith and is schooled by the shadowy imam Sheikh Rashid to follow the Straight Path of restraint and prayer instead of the Yellow Brick Road of Consumerism. His life’s trajectory seems to be heading towards committing the ultimate act of terrorism against his country and this is where Updike is scary, for he posits that those on this path are destined to harm us without having any triggering events to precipitate that behaviour. Ahmad’s foil is his aging Jewish career counsellor, Levy, who feels that at 62 his life purpose is over. Levy hates his job of trying to steer kids in low income neighbourhoods with zero career prospects, thanks to the stranglehold on America by large corporations and the “one percent.” Levy is drawn to Ahmad, trying to head him off from the extreme course he is on, and winds up having an affair with the boy’s earthy and free spirited mother. The creeping plot then takes on a Graham Greene-esque turn when Ahmad is introduced to the “job” he has to undertake as part of the path he has chosen; of course unexpected twists take place to make this obvious outcome a bit more interesting and thought-provoking. Along the way, Updike makes observations on our current Western society: “Affordable houses are dwindling in size, like pieces of paper repeatedly folded,” “America is paved solid with fat and tar.” Westerners push sex because it means liquor and flowers for dating, weddings, houses, baby goods, education etc., - i.e. Consumption! Christian fundamentalist preachers are equally rabble rousing as radicalized imams. Hispanics and blacks dominate the security forces that are multiplying due to the terrorism threat, giving birth to a new power order. Open society is defenceless against the forces of terror, for to close the gates would be to deny its very openness. By far his most searing observation is to note that George Washington’s ragtag band of guerillas fighting the British during the War of Independence was no different from the Iraqi and Vietnamese guerillas fighting the American invasions. And yet, despite the rich amount of social commentary, this is a very interior book, for we are constantly inside the heads of Ahmad and Levy; there are excessive descriptions of streetscapes and a long lesson on Islam with quoted passages from its holy books which I thought unnecessary for the purpose of the novel. For those who enjoy complex sentences, this is a good primer. At the end of the day, Updike forces us to face the fundamental question: will an American born and bred kid, despite his brainwashing to the contrary, press the button that will harm his country? As a patriotic American, we suspect the direction in which the author will lean, despite some of the shocking real-life evidence we have seen to the contrary since the book’s publication in 2006. And that is an answer well worth waiting to find out, as Ahmad and Levy edge their truck through slow-moving traffic towards the Lincoln Tunnel...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This was probably not the place to start with Updike but I found the stereotyping of non-whites in this book pretty insulting. Look, mild disaffection with the world around and being a lonely muslim teenager you does not automatically lead to you wanting to bomb people. Change the main character's religion from Islam to Christianity and the author's treatment of his main character's motivation is shown to be at least utterly ridiculous and at worst, pretty offensive. Ahmad apparently becomes a t This was probably not the place to start with Updike but I found the stereotyping of non-whites in this book pretty insulting. Look, mild disaffection with the world around and being a lonely muslim teenager you does not automatically lead to you wanting to bomb people. Change the main character's religion from Islam to Christianity and the author's treatment of his main character's motivation is shown to be at least utterly ridiculous and at worst, pretty offensive. Ahmad apparently becomes a terrorist because he doesn't have a Dad, goes to Qur'an lessons once a week and his Imam gets him a job driving a furniture van with a terrorist. Oh, and of course because he's a muslim. The fact he doesn't particularly trust or like the Imam doesn't seem to matter - they're both muslim you see so it must be 'One For All, All For One and DEATH TO THE INFIDELS'. Fortunately, the dastardly terrorist plot is foiled when the educated, reasonable, religiously apathetic jewish white liberal steps in to Save The Day by talking down the rabid fundamentalist. Honestly, I'm not making this up. Incidentally, it's not just muslims who get offensively caricatured, a black girl at school who Ahmad likes starts out singing in the church choir until they leave school when she immediately becomes a prostitute being pimped out by her boyfriend - who is named Tylenol because of an advert his mother saw. Again, I'm not making this up. And don't even get me started on the speech of the non-white characters. The black kids talk like old white men think black kids talk and Ahmad, although American-born and raised single-handedly by his white Irish mother in New Jersey, talks like English is his third language and he has just stepped off a plane from the Middle East. It is very clear that Mr Updike can write prose but it is also clear he spent much more time and attention on that prose than the research, plot and characterisation of this novel. There is a great novel to be written about the way a disaffected young man could have a sense of loneliness and isolation twisted and manipulated into an involvement with extremism and terrorism, but this isn't even close to being it. Oh dear.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Holbrook

    John Updike has never been one to drop a bollock but dear god, this is an embarrassing effort. This is not only a hammy read, but the characters, with the exception of Ahmad, are detestable caricatures who are everything a klansman would imagine a non-WASP to be. Even Ahmad speaks like a devotee of Kayyam despite being a Jersey native with an Irish mother. The glib references to Islam itself and Islamist rationale, the 'ottoman' money smuggling operation and the woman who simply MUST call and te John Updike has never been one to drop a bollock but dear god, this is an embarrassing effort. This is not only a hammy read, but the characters, with the exception of Ahmad, are detestable caricatures who are everything a klansman would imagine a non-WASP to be. Even Ahmad speaks like a devotee of Kayyam despite being a Jersey native with an Irish mother. The glib references to Islam itself and Islamist rationale, the 'ottoman' money smuggling operation and the woman who simply MUST call and tell her sister about all the nation's terror secrets would be laughable if they weren't so artlessly thrown at the page like a Pollock sketch. However, it is Updike's attitude towards blacks which turned the characters from badly drawn caricatures into racist cartoons. A black preacher delivering the kind of sketch not seen since the dark days of blackface minstrelsy and a teenage girl with a boyfriend pimp named - it pains me to write it - Tylenol Jones. It is the introduction of this disgraceful character - and the torrid way in which Ahmad and Tylenol cross paths - which made me want to grind my teeth. As an added bonus, try the Trinidadian teacher who thinks not only that J-Lo is a 'him', but drops the odd 'mon' in conversation. Jesus. Updike is a master essayist and his previous novels are utterly fantastic. This is a blip on an otherwise untarnished trajectory, but be warned. This is a book so bad that it makes you rethink whether he was always this poor to begin with. Avoid this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christina Stind

    I picked up this John Updike book while on vacation in Praque. The subject of the book was really interesting and this novel should be one of his easier accessible books. Also, I've been wanting to read Updike for a while since my favourite writer Joyce Carol Oates is always compared to him. I must say, I really enjoyed it. The story kept me enthralled and I find myself thinking about it all the time. Wondering if the reality he describes, is true. Wondering what to do if he is right. The story is I picked up this John Updike book while on vacation in Praque. The subject of the book was really interesting and this novel should be one of his easier accessible books. Also, I've been wanting to read Updike for a while since my favourite writer Joyce Carol Oates is always compared to him. I must say, I really enjoyed it. The story kept me enthralled and I find myself thinking about it all the time. Wondering if the reality he describes, is true. Wondering what to do if he is right. The story is about a young arab-american and his road from radicalism to extremism and the people who variously helps him and stands in his way. One of the strong points in his book is the way he describes Western society and how it must seem to a devoted believer - a Western society where deadly sins like gluttony, sloth and lust have lost their importance and hedonism is the rule of the day. I loved Updike's use of language and this book definitely made me want to read more of his books - even though I feel the ending of this book could have been a bit stronger.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    In some ways Updike has written a perfect book. Expertly researched and thought-provoking, yet a perfectly paced, page-turner thriller in its own right. Just the right number of characters, all complex, imperfect, and beautifully drawn. Many times I had to remind myself that this book is fiction, and must be taken as such, which I consider a tribute to the research and writing. But, be warned, the book is consistently negative, cynical and depressing in tone. There is a cat in the book, and even In some ways Updike has written a perfect book. Expertly researched and thought-provoking, yet a perfectly paced, page-turner thriller in its own right. Just the right number of characters, all complex, imperfect, and beautifully drawn. Many times I had to remind myself that this book is fiction, and must be taken as such, which I consider a tribute to the research and writing. But, be warned, the book is consistently negative, cynical and depressing in tone. There is a cat in the book, and even it is depressed and unhappy with Western society, as are all the characters, even the "good guys". That makes it hard reading (it's like "Welcome to Dick Chaney's view of the world"), but I think it is necessary to convince the reader of the deep conviction that the terrorist of the title needs to go on with his plans. Everywhere he turns he finds reason to hate America and its culture, and if we are honest, we'll admit those flaws. You just have to keep reminding yourself as you read this book that there is much good as well.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Susan Emmet

    Perhaps I'm ignorant of so much about Islamic faith and belief, but I found Updike's last book terrifying and powerful. The march to belief, under the tutelage of his imam, leads Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, son of an Irish-American mother and absent Muslim father, on a direct path to terrorism. What hit me so hard was Updike's skill in getting inside the head of a teenager, capturing his yearnings and anger, and merging his supposedly pristine faith with the ugliness and squalor of his New Prospect, NJ Perhaps I'm ignorant of so much about Islamic faith and belief, but I found Updike's last book terrifying and powerful. The march to belief, under the tutelage of his imam, leads Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, son of an Irish-American mother and absent Muslim father, on a direct path to terrorism. What hit me so hard was Updike's skill in getting inside the head of a teenager, capturing his yearnings and anger, and merging his supposedly pristine faith with the ugliness and squalor of his New Prospect, NJ surroundings. I was also drawn to Jack Levy, thwarted guidance counselor, who nonetheless senses things in Ahmad that the young man may not realize. One of the most moving and provocative novels I've read about the crosscutting between fervent belief and horrific acts. And the heads continue to roll.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark Juric

    Forget Stephen King. This is hands-down one of the most frightening books I've ever read. In no uncertain terms, Updike shows us how the quest for God can be perverted into a desire to suppress, diminish, and eventually destroy those with different beliefs. He burrows so deeply into the mind of the believer that he seduces you into following their logic, and frightens you with how quickly you discard even the most basic respect for life outside that framework. Forget Stephen King. This is hands-down one of the most frightening books I've ever read. In no uncertain terms, Updike shows us how the quest for God can be perverted into a desire to suppress, diminish, and eventually destroy those with different beliefs. He burrows so deeply into the mind of the believer that he seduces you into following their logic, and frightens you with how quickly you discard even the most basic respect for life outside that framework.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Buschhoff

    I had never even heard of this book until I found it in a book exchange. It is 8 years old but it seems very much a book for now. It is a fairly quick read. The writing is very good and the author treats the subject with kind of insight and respect that is so often lost in the din of hysteria and outrage writing. I found it to be a hopeful book..

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    I thought this was an interesting portrayal of the radicalization of a young Muslim boy. I have no frame of reference to know if this is an accurate depiction or not, but it certainly seems plausible to me. The book is very readable and enjoyable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sheheryar B. Sheikh

    (Review previously published at http://www.webdelsol.com/The_Potomac/...) E.M. Forster defines the novel as a prose fiction of more than 50,000 words. Essential ingredients of a novel, he argues convincingly, are the obvious three: story, plot and characters. Besides these, the best novels are garnished with deserving and appropriate seasonings of rhythm (motifs repeated at perfect intervals), fantasy (which can be steeped in rationality, often confused with reality) and prophecy (only the best (Review previously published at http://www.webdelsol.com/The_Potomac/...) E.M. Forster defines the novel as a prose fiction of more than 50,000 words. Essential ingredients of a novel, he argues convincingly, are the obvious three: story, plot and characters. Besides these, the best novels are garnished with deserving and appropriate seasonings of rhythm (motifs repeated at perfect intervals), fantasy (which can be steeped in rationality, often confused with reality) and prophecy (only the best books manage this feat: the original proclamation of something, anything, universally human). If Forster's guidelines had been foremost in Updike's mind, he would not have written Terrorist the way he did. Perhaps he would not have written it at all. Updike is a champion of suburban existential dilemmas—his works are turgid with the adulterous and dog-walking inertia prevalent among the ennui-ridden intelligentsia of the United States' northeastern seaboard. The little "foreign work" he's undertaken in his twenty-two-novel career is limited to the quotable The Coup (1978) and the forgettable Brazil (1994). Besides novels, his oeuvre encompasses books of poems, essays, children's fantasy, a play, and a memoir. Let's not forget to mention that he is widely recognized as the champion of American middle-and-upper class values. Understandably, expectations ballooned when it was announced the American master would churn out a book titled ominously, Terrorist. There were skeptics who said it could not be done, not by Updike. They were right. John Updike should not have written this book. Not because the final product derides extremist factions within Islam, which it does subtly and overtly (though in both cases artlessly); this was overlooked by many reviewers. Not because he hadn't considered the thorough integration of first-generation Muslim Americans in the country's culture and localized counter-cultures—including street language, dress sense, and consumerism. Not because writers shouldn't experiment beyond their established territory—they most certainly should break new ground to remain interested in the craft of creation. None of these reasons would suffice to label this book 'best left unwritten'. Only the reason that, simply put (God forgive Oscar Wilde his peccadilloes, if only for voicing his bon mots), Terrorist is a badly written book. Consider Terrorist's story. Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy is the son of an Irish-American woman and an Egyptian exchange-student, who left them when Ahmad was three years old. At the narrative's beginning, Ahmad is about to graduate from high school in New Prospect, New Jersey, a once-thriving town that now wallows in the memories of its unrealized potential. And then he goes to work for a Lebanese immigrant family, driving a delivery and pickup truck for their furniture shop. A scheme to detonate a bomb surfaces, and Ahmad finds himself behind the wheel of the rigged truck at the designated time, at the designated place. A novel's second most important propellant, the disarming mechanism which is supposed to quell all fears of it being—God forbid—possibly untrue, is its plot; the facet that answers the reader's querulous "Why?" Most authors nowadays reveal the story and then reveal the plot in alternative layers, in the sequence: "And then… [and backtrack with] because… and then…". There is the more difficult (in terms of keeping an audience's attention) art of reversing the technique: "Because… [revealing motive beforehand] and then…". Martin Amis has done the latter successfully in "The last days of Muhammad Atta," a fictionalization of the Terrorist recently featured in The New Yorker (and part of Amis's The House of Meetings). In Amis's story—a fictionalized account of the real-world Terrorist Muhammad Atta's last hours—Atta comes across as a man with a severe intention, but not as a flat character. Updike doesn't fare quite so well. A limp bitterness languishes in the narrator's attempts at omniscience. Ahmad is given a monotonous identity, and a childlike peevishness that leads him to volunteer for the bombing mission. It is as though Updike took the CNN sketch of a Terrorist: America-hater, consumerism-intolerant, marginalized Muslim-American, and added inadaptable muscle and bone to lifeless cells. The result? An android in the vein of Lt. Commander Data with Warf-like, unreasonable menace. From beginning to end, the motivations of Terrorist's protagonist skid back and forth like a lumbering truck on a one-dimensional highway, sometimes following his human impulses, and mostly curbing them with the help of his overzealous religiosity. Never balanced, Terrorist teeters over a void, and repeatedly falls into feeble attempts at understanding Ahmad, a character that an author with more insight might have saved. It is maybe too late in life for the septuagenarian Updike to real-ize Ahmad's specific story or his unique angst. The hollow shell that Ahmad becomes in Updike's hands does the leonine Updike serious discredit. It is in passages that do not concern Ahmad, or are only peripherally connected to him that Updike shows his glitter. His commentary on suburban culture is lacquered in authoritative commentary. Sentences become poignant instantly, once they leave the medieval language attributed to Ahmad. The first sentence from the novel reads, (author's italics): "Devils, Ahmad thinks. These devils seek to take away my God." This jars a little, but merely begins a series of the character's linguistic impediments. At one point Ahmad says, "I seek to walk the Straight Path… in this country, it is not easy. There are too many paths, too much selling of many useless things." Ahmad's global political views are blanket statements, as are most teenagers', but they are worded much more awkwardly: "The United States might have become a kind of Canada, a peaceable and sensible country, though infidel." Even in ordinary things, Ahmad finds difficulty expressing anything simply. Take for example a line belonging in a badly subtitled Arabic movie: "I do not desire uncleanness." Did Updike follow around a fresh-off-the-boat Seven-Eleven immigrant employee for research into an American-born, American-speaking Muslim's jargon? One wonders. Other characters who figure largely include Ahmad's mother, Terry; his guidance counselor Jack Levy (by default attracted to Terry—poor Updike, he never could resist attaching middle-aged people at the hip); Joryleen Grant, a roundish, "seductive black classmate", plays Ahmad's love-interest, from whom he is separated for a large chunk of the novel, then serendipitously reunited at the most predictable twist in history since Sherlock Holmes's reprisal. These thicker-than-Ahmad, but still-flat cardboards serve as microphones of American secularity, each trying in his or her way to keep Ahmad from, figuratively and literally, blasting away his future. At the other end of the tug-of-war is the Lebanese furniture businessman's son, 'Charlie' Chehab, the fully American-ized Muslim who sets Ahmad up in several ways. Ahmad's Quranic instructor and local mosque's imam, Shaikh Rashid, is a colorful character only because he is portrayed as a mysterious entity. Ahmad's cultivated hatred for consumerism and his teenage angst are attributed mainly to his Shaikh's teachings, but there are also passages in which the Shaikh talks romantically and exotically of the Islamic version of heaven. He is seen opening the student's vision to encompass alternate interpretations of the Quran (72 virgins being 72 raisins according to some). Updike's research is impeccable. His narrator is thoroughly adept in the Quran's structure and quotes it frequently, almost always relevantly. Throughout the novel, he shows Ahmad's actions and/or thoughts reflecting some verses. But Updike irreparably damages the narrative by overdoing the scriptural quotes in a novel that attempts to promote secular philosophy over religion. And he does not use the quotes in a truly representative manner, either. Nearly all of the quotes he uses propel the punitive image of the Islamic God, and not the loving and forgiving sides. There are plenty of each kind, if one looks at the translations Updike used. Which is another fault with Terrorist. The book's two epigraphs are unsuitable, not for their content, but for their overarching threat to the structure of the novel. One of the epigraphs is a quote from the Bible, the only quote from Christian and Judaic scripture. And it is in contemporary translation (meaning no thee's and thou's), whereas the Quranic translations are all from Old English (lots of lofty thee's and thou's). The juxtaposition is unwarranted and extinguishes the hopes for an understanding illumination. The inconsistencies of Terrorist glare at first read, and the shallowness of the book prevents a reread. And they cast a shadow over the master author's motives. If Updike wanted to debate, with a fictionally realized argument, whether militant Islam is a dated concept, he has produced an essay of doubtful merit. If Updike wanted to produce a novel that treats its characters with humanity and reserves heavy-handed judgment, he succeeds in his own head alone. Terrorist is a trite work that John Updike should not have written, even if he was only attempting to fulfill the minimum criterion of a novel: 50,000 words of prose fiction.

  28. 4 out of 5

    K

    This was the first Updike book I read. I can see that he's a skilled writer, but overall I was unimpressed with this book. I found the dialogue excessively lengthy and didactic, and the pacing pretty slow. I also thought that the characterization was inconsistent and odd; for example, the main character, who was American-born and educated, usually spoke extremely formally like an ESL student -- except when he didn't, occasionally using more casual slang for no apparent reason. The main character This was the first Updike book I read. I can see that he's a skilled writer, but overall I was unimpressed with this book. I found the dialogue excessively lengthy and didactic, and the pacing pretty slow. I also thought that the characterization was inconsistent and odd; for example, the main character, who was American-born and educated, usually spoke extremely formally like an ESL student -- except when he didn't, occasionally using more casual slang for no apparent reason. The main character was also apparently intolerant of his peers' overt sexuality, but was totally fine with crude locker-room talk from a Moslem fundamentalist work buddy. Huh? Why would he not be disgusted and disillusioned, especially if he viewed this person as a religious compatriot? Although the plot twist at the end was very interesting, the trudge through the rest of the book was not worth it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book is so full of unconvincing characters and racial stereotypes that I'm stunned it was published. If it hadn't been written by John Updike, I'm certain it never would have seen the light of day. If you see this book on a shelf, run as you might from an actual terrorist. This book is so full of unconvincing characters and racial stereotypes that I'm stunned it was published. If it hadn't been written by John Updike, I'm certain it never would have seen the light of day. If you see this book on a shelf, run as you might from an actual terrorist.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anna Dawson

    You can only call this book bewilderingly sexist, built on a whole range of flawed racial, religious and gender stereotypes. Lazy, unimaginative writing. It’s the kind of book you keep expecting to get better, but it doesn’t so just give up.

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