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Terrorist: A Novelby John Updike
"John Updike should have run a thousand miles away from this subject — at least as soon as he saw the results on the page....Despite all the Koranic homework, there is a sense that what is alien in Islam to a Westerner remains alien to John Updike. What he has discovered, yet again, is merely the generalized fluid of God-plus-sex that has run throughout all his novels." James Wood, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
"Terrorist is a wonderfully sharp work. Part extreme coming-of-age story, part thriller, it is carefully plotted, articulate, and fortified with good writing. But it also has an old-fashioned willingness to make the great problems of the day personal, human-scale, and funny, and it is for this reason that Terrorist is a book to admire and be entertained by at once." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
John Updike has written a brilliant novel that ranks among the most provocative of his distinguished career. Terrorist is the story of Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, an alienated American-born teenager who spurns the materialistic, hedonistic life he witnesses in the slumping New Jersey factory town he calls home. Turning to the words of the Holy Qur'an as expounded to him by the pedantic imam of a local mosque, Ahmad devotes himself fervently to God. Neither the world-weary guidance counselor at his high school nor Ahmad's mischievously seductive classmate Joryleen succeeds in deflecting him from his course, as the threads of an insidious plot gather around him.
"This marvelous novel can be accurately labeled as a 9/11 novel, but it deserves also the label of masterpiece for its carefully nuanced building up of the psychology of those who traffic in terrorism. Timely and topical, poised and passionate, it is a high mark in Updike's career." Booklist (Starred Review)
"So smooth is Updike in putting his grotesques through their paces — effortlessly putting them in each others' orbits — that his contempt for them enhances rather than spoils the novel." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Unfortunately, the would-be terrorist in this novel turns out to be a completely unbelievable individual....Though Mr. Updike manages to extract a fair amount of suspense from Ahmad's story, he does so with the heavy reliance on unbelievable coincidence." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"A chilling tale that is perhaps the most essential novel to emerge from Sept. 11." People
"Discursiveness, coincidence and a barely credible surprise ending compromise, but do not critically impair, Updike's intriguing 22nd novel....Updike, approaching his mid-70s, continues to entice, provoke and astonish." Kirkus Reviews
"In the end, Terrorist fails not because the subject matter is too foreign but because of lackadaisical prose, poorly drawn characters and a narrative that plods along for 288 pages before culminating abruptly and unsatisfactorily." The Oregonian
"The most satisfactory elements in Terrorist are those that remind us that no amount of special pleading can set us free of history, no matter how oblivious and unresponsive to it we may be. And that history, in disposing of empires, admits of no innocents and spares no one." Robert Stone, The New York Times Book Review
"[F]or all its marvelous writing and philosophical cogency, Updike's Terrorist is an awkward, overdetermined drama acted out by gritty urban characters he can't bring to life....These are characters — and this is a thriller — that Richard Price should have written. (Grade: C+)" Entertainment Weekly
"One compelling and surprising ride." USA Today
"Updike...has written something like a teen coming-of-age story, but he wants his 24 moment too and indulges in some gratuitous button-pushing along the way....In a certain regard, Terrorist is an interesting, if failed, thought experiment." Los Angeles Times
The terrorist of John Updike’s title is eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, the son of an Irish American mother and an Egyptian father who disappeared when he was three. Devoted to Allah and to the Qur’an as expounded by the imam of his neighborhood mosque, Ahmad feels his faith threatened by the materialistic, hedonistic society he sees around him in the slumping New Jersey factory town of New Prospect. Neither Jack Levy, his life-weary guidance counselor at Central High, nor Joryleen Grant, his seductive black classmate, succeeds in diverting Ahmad from what the Qur’an calls the Straight Path. Now driving a truck for a local Lebanese furniture store—a job arranged through his imam—Ahmad thinks he has discovered God’s purpose for him. But to quote the Qur’an: Of those who plot, God is the best.
Born of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father long since disappeared, 18-year-old Ahmad craves spiritual nurture and is drawn into an insidious plot.
About the Author
John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker and since 1957 has lived in Massachusetts. He is the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.
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