Terrorist (John Updike, 2006)


Why did you choose this book?

As my long-time readers know, I lead the monthly fiction book discussions at my workplace.  This was our most recent read.

What’s it about?

Ahmad is half Egyptian and half Irish.  After his father disappeared from his life, he filled that void with devotion to his faith: Islam.  As Ahmad grew older, his shaikh became more and more influential in his life, eventually convincing him to give up on college and begin work as a truck driver.  Ahmad’s first job is with a furniture store, but after a few months his boss approaches him with an offer.  He wants Ahmad to carry out a terror attack.


Literary fiction

Other recommended reads?

The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim.  A nonfiction book about how the son of a terrorist made his own life choices, despite or because of his father’s.


John Updike won more literary prizes than most authors, including two Pulitzers.  I’ll try some of his other work, but color me unimpressed by this entry.  I felt that Ahmad and the other Islamic characters were too stereotypically drawn, with little or no motivation outside of faith for any of their actions.  I felt that Ahmad’s Irish mother was a caricature, and that Ahmad’s actions in the final chapters were sudden and the reader was not presented with the reasons behind them.  Some of the novel’s other characters were more believable (like burnt-out high school guidance counselor Jack Levy).  The novel was well-written but not necessarily an enjoyable read.  Admittedly, I read it late at night the day before the discussion, but I didn’t skim, and I think reading it more slowly would have left me with the same impression.

Up next?

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett


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