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Book Name: Terrorist

Author: John Updike

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Overall Rating: (3.75/5) View all reviews (total 51 reviews)

Starred Review.Ripped from the headlines doesn't begin to describe Updike's latest, a by-the-numbers novelization of the last five years' news reports on the dangers of home-grown terror that packs a gut punch. Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy is 18 and attends Central High School in the New York metro area working class city of New Prospect, N.J. He is the son of an Egyptian exchange student who married a working-class Irish-American girl and then disappeared when Ahmad was three. Ahmad, disgusted by his mother's inability to get it together, is in the thrall of Shaikh Rashid, who runs a storefront mosque and preaches divine retribution for "devils," including the "Zionist dominated federal government." The list of devils is long: it includes Joryleen Grant, the wayward African-American girl with a heart of gold; Tylenol Jones, a black tough guy with whom Ahmad obliquely competes for Joryleen's attentions (which Ahmad eventually pays for); Jack Levy, a Central High guidance counselor who at 63 has seen enough failure, including his own, to last him a lifetime (and whose Jewishness plays a part in a manner unthinkable before 9/11); Jack's wife, Beth, as ineffectual and overweight (Updike is merciless on this) as she is oblivious; and Teresa Mulloy, a nurse's aide and Sunday painter as desperate for Jack's attention, when he takes on Ahmad's case, as Jack is for hers. Updike has distilled all their flaws to a caustic, crystalline essence; he dwells on their poor bodies and the debased world in which they move unrelentingly, and with a dispassionate cruelty that verges on shocking. Ahmad's revulsion for American culture doesn't seem to displease Updike one iota. But Updike has also thoroughly digested all of the discursive pap surrounding the post-9/11 threat of terrorism, and that is the real story here. Mullahs, botched CIA gambits, race and class shame (that leads to poor self-worth that leads to vulnerability that leads to extremism), half-baked plots that just might work-all are here, and dispatched with an elegance that highlights their banality and how very real they may be. 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.Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


In most respects a very fine novel

by algo41 "algo41"

In most respects this is a very fine novel. It provides a very convincing portrait of a terrorist, a true believer, who thinks creating carnage in support of the faith is G-d's will. Ahmad's family background is carefully constructed to make it all seem reasonable, but Updike does not sacrifice character development to his theme. In fact, all the secondary characters are well drawn. A nice touch is Ahmad's concept of G-d's loneliness.My one problem is with the imagery, which is a very surprising complaint for an Updike novel. There is too much of it, and some of it is terrible. Also, at initial reading, I felt a bit unsatisfied by the conversation in that last truck ride, it did not seem momentous enough in itself, or to effect a change in heart. Then I realized that the most important point was Levy's willingness to die, not in what he was saying.

very well written

by Amazon Customer "too many books, too little time"

This novel by Updike is so suspenseful that I almost got sick reading it! I couldn't put it down from start to finish! The protagonist is an earnest, decent young muslim American, who gets drawn into an extreme act of jihad. He is so confused, well intentioned, genuinely wanting to serve God, that your heart just weeps for him. Also well drawn is the decent Jewish guidance counselor from Ahmed's school.I recommend this book 100%!

Just a little disappointing

by Amazon Customer "uneasy_rhetoric"

A long time ago, I read a criticism of John Updike that said something to the effect that he observes life by stepping out his front door and looking around for a while and then going back in and writing. This is why, when Updike ventures farther afield than his usual subject -- white, middle class, protestant, New Englanders and their relationships -- his voice often falters."Terrorist" joins other works like Brazil, S., and The Coup, where Updike attempts to go outside of his comfort zone and explore something a little different. The problem with "Terrorist" is that he is obviously uncomfortable.First, there are too many different characters and plot lines in the book, almost as though Updike had planned to write a much longer book, or a book from a different point of view than the one he ultimately chose. The menagerie of personalities forces him to develop a contrived (not very believable) set of circumstances that bring all of the characters together for an ending that is less suspenseful, as some critics have indicated, than it is abrupt and tidy.One character, Hermione, is an assistant to the director of the Department of Homeland Security. Her character isn't explored and exists solely for the convenience of the denouement.The character of Ahmad, the main character and the most fleshed out, is complex. Updike teases the reader with insight into the conflicted psyche of this devout Muslim who was raised by a Catholic mother in the United States. But it is only a tease. Updike's conception of Muslim devotion tastes too intellectual, too textbook. It is a sympathetic conception, but still one that seems to be lacking.That isn't to say there aren't redeeming qualities. The prose is classic Updike, flowery sometimes, dark sometimes, always introspective, and always trying to understand why people make bad decisions.I've read others call "Terrorist" chilling, and I have to disagree. "Chilling" would describe the book I wish Updike had written, the one where, through a strong focus on Ahmad, we see an innocent devotion slowly and methodically corrupted by those who would wage war in the name of God. There is a hint of that here; those who corrupt Ahmad are obviously more about manipulation than about devotion. Unfortunately, the manipulation happens so quickly as to be superficial.This is not Updike at his best, but it isn't his worst either. I just wish his editor had told him to take six more months to tighten things up.

Terror Stereotyped

by Andrew J. Rodriguez

Even though the novel seems to have been put together in a hurry, I still like Updike's writing style. As a former Cuban refugee who survived terrorism for several years during the revolution. I disagree with the prevailing tendency to stereotype terrorists as devious religious fanatics. Terrorism in Cuba was carried out by teachers, doctors, laborers and even teenagers who were determined to bring Batista's tyranny to an end. Now Cuba is ruled by a worse kind of terror; Castro's communist dictatorship. Simply put, terrorism boomerangs with a vengeance.Andrew J. RodriguezAward-winning author: "Adios, Havana," a Memoir.

Updike Misses the Mark; Bores and Insults Reader

by Antoinette Klein

I have read the four books Updike wrote about Rabbit Angstrom and was captivated by his portrait of American life from the 1950's through the 1990's in that brilliant tetralogy. I thought that his skills would lend themselves equally well to a growing threat to American society: the home-grown terrorist. Sadly, this is a boring anti-American treatise that attempts to make a hero of a teenager who wishes death on America.Ahmad is the son of an Egyptian father and Irish-American mother growing up in a multicultural city in New Jersey. His hatred of America and the American way of life is evident on every page and emphasized with passages from the Koran that support his hatred. What Updike failed to do is give any reasonable explanation for this American-born and raised child to harbor such hatred for his native country. Why did he obsess over the father who deserted him but look down upon the mother who cared for him, provided for him, and raised him the best way she knew? What led him to Islam, his strict code of conduct, and his hatred for his country?With the exception of the ill-drawn character of Ahmad, the book is peopled with insulting stereotypes: the fat American wife who has no life outside of her daily soap opera, the single mother who is promiscuous and neglects her child, the spinster career woman in love with her married boss, the aging and hapless guidance counselor who doesn't notice a troubled student until it's time for graduation.The book plods slowly until the final section when the act of terrorism is to be accomplished. Then, the writer insults the reader with too many coincidences and a let-down of an ending that left me wondering why I bothered to wade through this anti-American tirade. Surely, these are not the feelings of the writer who used the capitalist country he deplores in the book to pursue his career and make a handsome living. Or is this a case of biting the hand that feeds you?

An ever changing world

by A. T. A. Oliveira "A. T. A. Oliveira"

Throughout the last decades, North-American writer John Updike has dissected his country's society in a meticulous way. Chronicling urban life, he uses one single character to portray a group. He usually writes about the average suburban whose personal American Dream hasn't worked. His most famous creation is Rabbit Angstron, whose life was followed in a award winner series of novels.Updike's fictions are usually hand in hand with the historical moment his characters are living in. Therefore, it is not a surprise his latest novel, "Terrorist", has a special connection with life in the United States of America in the awake of the post-9/11. The main character is Ahmad Mullroy, an atypical adolescent. Half Irish and half Egyptian, he is a muslin and in his views, the others are demons trying to deviate him from his mission.There are two important teacher in this boy's life. One is the counselor in the school, named Jack Levy (this one a typical Updikian character). The other one is the master who teaches him about Islamism in the Mosque. Ahmad doesn't expect much from his future life, he only wants to be a truck driver. But Jack expects the boy can do much more and go to the university.Updike has a distance from what he is writing about. He never seems to be enchanted with the subject, but he tells the story in a very matter-of-fact fashion. And his comments sometimes seem to be even scientific when describing Islamic and African-American traditions."Terrorist" never tries to explain the new American society - this one that belongs to the global world. Updike only exposes this new society - with its many failures and few virtues and many contradictions. In this way, the novel is a honest portrait - however never perfect - of a world in constant change.

To Reach a Boy

by B

-- SYNOPSIS, NO SPOILER--Main character, Ahmad, finds solace in the Qur'an but is misguided by his religious mentor, his imam, who turns what is essentially a private religion for Ahmad into a deadly jihad against all of infidel society.Ahmad stands apart from the crowd and has never had anyone to properly look up to. In response to his isolation, he erects a precarious scaffolding of faith to justify and explain his disaffection and convinces himself that the reason he is so far from others is that he is so close to God. Enter Jack Levy. Jack, a wearied and depressive guidance counselor at Central High School, attempts to offer Ahmad a more balanced and worldly perspective on life, but Ahmad considers almost everything a threat to his faith, is suspicious of Jack and won't open up.Ahmad's only consolation is the God that dwells with him "closer than his neck vein." His Egyptian father left the family when Ahmad was three, and the boy considers his Irish-American mother, Teresa, as the archetype of the unbelieving heathen and an unclean woman with loose morals. Strangely blind to the corrosive effect of the imam's teachings, Teresa continues to accommodate her son's faith; even driving him to and from the mosque like a dutiful soccer mom. Then a relationship begins to develop between Teresa and Jack. As Jack reaches out to Ahmad, the jaded counselor begins to find meaning of his own.The plot thickens. Spirals toward disaster. And we come to the brink of the end. Will Jack succeed in bringing Ahmad back to life? Yet breaking down the barrier that separates Ahmad from the world would mean to steal his very God . . .--COMMENTS, SPOILER BELOW--Having just finished the book, the only thing that struck me as unbelievable was the way Jack Levy knew so much about the events and people involved in the terrorist conspiracy. I understand that he talked to Hermione about the situation, but we didn't see her give him all the information he seemed to know. He had a comprehensive understanding of what happened: he knew the FBI had Mr. Chehab's brother under surveillance down in Florida for some time prior to the culminating event, he knew the gist of the note attached to decapitated body of Charlie, he knew Charlie was a CIA operative and that he was tortured before being killed. I am assuming Jack was never officially briefed on the case, so in order for his knowledge of the events to be more believable, we need to be privy as Hermione learns the facts from the Secretary and in turn relates them to Jack over the phone. Other than that, Jack was totally believable. In fact, he was my favorite character.I felt for Jack and Ahmad as they drove the explosive-laden truck towards the tunnel, hashing out each other's attitudes and philosophies on life. Jack's, a guiding voice long overdue. The most powerful moment in the book for me was when Ahmad pulled out of the alley loaded with explosives, headed towards the highway, when suddenly Jack appeared on the street waving him down--through the windshield, through that invisible shield that separated the boy from the world--and "commandingly" rapped on the window for Ahmad to open up. Ahmad, a deferential boy, acceded to the older man's authority and opened the door. That kind of connection probably never happened before in Ahmad's life. He probably never experienced a strong intervention from anyone, especially a male figure, concerned for his welfare. Jack reached Ahmad just as he was about to leave this world and at that moment likened to the father he never had.The other part of the book that resonated with (and revolted) me was the absolute pitilessness and coldness of the imam, Shaikh Rashid. Shaikh Rashid met Ahmad in the saferoom the night before the suicide attack and spoke to the soon-to-be-martyred boy calmly and--we are told--as if Ahmad were somehow already a corpse. The imam told the boy to carry on even if Charlie failed to meet him. Only later do we find out that at that point Shaikh Rashid had already known of and perhaps participated in Charlie's death. With this realization, Shaikh Rashid's evil nature sinks in like a knife--a bad influence, indeed.Ahmad's mother was another interesting character. In fact, the only character I didn't find interesting was Beth. Beth was painted as a pathetic slob whose only redemption in life was the lightness with which she treated the world when she was still pretty enough for the world to take notice and care. I found the Secretary and Hermione's relationship provoking, although I would have liked to have seen more of the two. Hermione worshipped the Secretary while fanatically upholding propriety, subduing all trace of inappropriate emotion. She idealized him in a sick kind of way, as if he were some living statue, a walking founding father of the nation. She treated him like an idol and in so doing killed her own individuality. She became a tick on his golden head, a busybody sucking on his life and gloating in the proximity of something she thought to be somehow relevant and important to the world. They were both pathetic, really, but in an interesting way.Joryleen I found interesting too. I liked how she felt Ahmad out like "a tongue testing a sensitive tooth"--as something alien she felt she had to somehow find resolution with. And of course, searching for that resolution she was drawn to him. Joryleen was plump and voluptuous and reminded me, and perhaps Ahmad too, of Ahmad's mom, in a bodily and fertile kind of way.But again, Shaikh Rashid: one word: despicable.This book had everything: a driven plot, well developed characters and evocative prose. The American master, John Updike does it again.

It Could Be Tomorrow's Headline

by Big D

An overabundance of description keeps this novel from having the explosive--no pun intended--impact it might have had. Good story, sufficiently told, but one that never quite reaches the drama, impact and promise of it's title. (This is John Updike, not Vince Flynn or Nelson DeMille!!) While not as dramatic as Flynn and DeMille books, this is one is probably more realistic and frightfully so. The ending seems a bit contrived, but still, it is a book worth reading to get the idea of the kind of America we live in and how that kind of America might well produce an Islamic suicide bomber. In the end, this book, in toto, is as relevant as tomorrow's headline. Worth the read. Well worth the read.

Something new from Updike

by Bookreporter

Acclaimed on a regular basis for being among the best fiction writers of his time, at age 74 John Updike brings forth a protagonist starkly unlike his adolescent young males in many of his 21 earlier novels. Ahmad, the son of an Egyptian graduate student and an Irish American mother who dabbles in art, experiences many of the awkward yearnings and self doubts of any other 18-year-old American. Yet there is one grave exception: he is a devout Muslim under the tutelage of a radical imam who runs an obscure mosque in a converted dance studio above a shop in New Prospect, New Jersey.Updike successfully brings to life the fundamentalist Muslim view of American glut and excess in such a chilling fashion that we cannot fail to catch a glimpse of why our way of life is an impenetrable mystery that appears evil to the purists of ancient Middle Eastern thought. Ahmad views Americans with jaundiced scorn and contempt. Women are temptresses to be feared and yet adored. Aspirations to acquiring conspicuous belongings are spurned as evil. Only through the glory of serving Allah can he fulfill his life's purpose.As Ahmad approaches graduation, he is seen as an underachiever by his high school guidance counselor, Jack Levy, who belatedly recognizes a spark that should have been kindled much earlier. Levy tries to dissuade Ahmad from going to truck driver school and instead enter a city college, but the imam has other plans for the impressionable and sensitive youth. Ahmad is inexorably and unknowingly pulled into becoming the primary player in a sinister plot to be carried out on the anniversary of 9/11.The novel is not without its traditional sexual nuances. We see deep within the frustrated guidance counselor, Jack Levy, as he struggles with a mature but unhappy marriage by reaching out to Ahmad through his mother. Ahmad is tempted by a wild young female fellow student into giving up his purity, and the agonies of a moral dilemma are treated with pure Updike angst.Updike treats the American government's oblivious disregard to knowledge of the Muslim culture with frustration. We are introduced to passages, written in Arabic and then translated, showing the flowery, metaphorical and obscure writing endemic to the Arabic language. FBI investigators listening to phone chatter, but unschooled in the poetic linguistics used even when suspects are speaking English, miss the significance of references to blinding light and rushing waters as a direct clue to the growing plot. Even Ahmad is sometimes puzzled by the murky descriptions, especially of paradise. He questions his imam about the logic of how dark-eyed virgins can still be virgins if so many heroes reach paradise in their pursuit. This leads to an eye-opening alternative translation of the Koran in that respect, yet it is so skillfully explained away by the cleric that Ahmad is convinced that any misinterpretations are inconsequential and that sitting at the right hand of Allah surpasses all.TERRORIST is a breakaway genre for Updike, who has never before written a thriller, and yet thriller it is. We are drawn, page by page, knowing a terrible act is about to take place even though Ahmad in his innocence only belatedly discovers his role in the unfolding drama.--- Reviewed by Roz Shea

These Devils Are Trying To Take My God From Me!

by Caesar M. Warrington

Meet Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, the son of a long-gone Egyptian Arab father, who he's never known, and a feckless Irish-American mother, who styles herself an 'artist' and treats Ahmad more like a roomate than a son. Ahmad lives in a North Jersey city that hasn't known good times in over thirty years. A senior in high school, Ahmad's disgust for his dumbed-down and half naked peers is only exceeded by his contempt for the hypocritical and incompetent teachers. In his mind, it is they who uphold the social and political systems, and thus share responsibilty for the amoral and atheistic society he is forced to live in.Ahmad's only peaceful haven is a storefront mosque that sits amongst the check-cashing stores, bail-bondsmen and other reminders of our society's societal and economic degradation. Here the imam, the only father figure that this precocious boy has ever known, teaches and guides Ahmad in the ways of God and moral absolutes. Here he receives the discipline and the sense of right from wrong he will never get from his liberal and immature mother. The imam encourages Ahmad's interest in the trucking profession, going so far as to set him up with a job driving for a furniture store owned by a good Muslim Lebanese family. Ahmad is being groomed to be a suicide bomber.Updike's novel is less about Islamist terrorism than it is about our cultural decline. Almost everyone in this story, with the exception of Ahmad's mother, laments something of our society's circumstances. Ahmad's guidance counselor --and his mother's soon-to-be lover-- Jack Levy, looks back to a time when his profession wasn't necessary, when kids had close families, strong church ties, good friendships. He remembers when there was not only concern but hope in the future. Levy's wife looks at the people she deals with as a librarian. People without respect or consideration, incapable of conducting themselves properly in a library. These "patrons" could care less about the books on the shelves, they come for the DVDs, CDs and free computer usage. I hate to admit it but it is hard to disagree with this book's observations. Especially with those made by young Ahmad. Truthfully, many of his thoughts and opinions are much the same which many of us share. Updike has drawn a very sympathetic figure with this kid. He should be our future, not a pawn to used in our destruction.

Worthwhile, but Flawed

by CJA "CJA"

Updike uses the young Arab-American terrorist as a device for criticizing modern American popular culture. The criticism is withering and effective. The book also uses humor and satire to poke some more holes in American culture. On the whole, the humor was quite well done and effective.On the down side, some of the plot twists and character sketches seem surprisingly amateurish for a writer of Updike's caliber. Also, the "terrorist" as a character is not quite fleshed out and is more effective as a device for criticizing American culture than he is as a realistic, fully developed character.The ending of the book was well done, and the last few passages beautifully written.Worthwhile, but flawed.

A view of ourselves through the eyes of the disenchanted.

by C. Matthew Curtin

There are people in this world who want to die in the process of killing their fellow men: not soldiers on a battlefield pointing a gun in their direction, but men, women, and children, going about their lives as well as they can, probably trying to do so in such a way that does not harm others. Why would someone want to kill arbitrary people and to die in the process? How does someone develop the kind of mindset that brings him to the conclusion? Are such people hopelessly lost? These are all questions that people all over the world, and particularly in America, are asking themselves. These are also the questions that John Updike addresses in his latest novel.Terrorist is the story of a young man, born and raised in the United States, not far from New York. We meet him in his final year of high school and follow him through graduation, summer, and into the fall. Ahmad Mulloy is the product of a marriage perhaps two decades earlier between two students at the New Prospect campus of the State University of New Jersey, an Egyptian exchange student, Omar Ashmawy and Irish-American art student Teresa Mulloy. Ashmawy left his wife and three-year-old son, unable to make more than a menial living despite his U.S. citizenship that followed marriage. Ahmad was supported by his mother became a nurse's aid and the absence of his father was replaced by a romanticized notion of what his father must have been.Despite his good grades in school, Ahmad switches to a vocational education track under the advice not of his guidance counselor Jack Levy (who in fact does not meet Ahmad until near graduation) but of his "teacher," Shaikh Rashid, the imam at a small mosque nearby. Ahmad does his best to remain separate from the "devils" around him, including Joryleen Grant and her boyfriend Tylenol Jones, taking solace instead in the life of an ardent Muslim and the study of the Qur'an.Rather than pursuing education, Ahmad works to receive a commercial driver's license after high school and takes a delivery job with a furniture store run by a Lebanese family, the Chehabs. Habib Chehab's son "informally" called Charlie has been making the deliveries, but a new driver is needed to allow Charlie to take on a more significant role in the business office. Thus begins Ahmad's work and establishment of the connections that will lead him to a position we have no reason to believe he seriously imagined for himself.Updike has not produced a psychological analysis of the mind of a terrorist. What he has done is created a story and characters that allow us to see the experience of a young man disadvantaged by the lack of a father, eager to please paternal figures and the world around him. We are given a view of the people who influence this young man, for good and for bad; we see them for what they are in their hopes, duty, impotence, frustration, desperation, and even occasionally heroism. None is perfect, but all are human. In this, there is a certain timeless truth in the telling of our condition.But Terrorist is not a timeless story: it is one of a world brought closer together through technology and the openness of American society, struggling to find balance at the opening of the twenty-first century. It is a period story, one that will be easily identified as coming from 2006 and one that readers in 2036 might well need to be prepared to understand.The view isn't pretty and it isn't one that will be accepted as realistic by suburbanites sitting cozily in their overstuffed lounge chairs parked in a corner room of their McMansions at the end of their cul-de-sacs. My advice to such readers is to get into the city, to mingle among the inner cities with their disenchanted native-born Americans and the fear-inspiring immigrants, to learn their concerns, and to hear them talk about their spirituality and identity in a land where they see only greed and focus on the self.Taking a hard and honest look will reveal that among us there are indeed people who see only their brothers and devils who seek to take away their God. Updike has done us a great service in this opportunity to see ourselves through the eyes of another.

An Updike letdown

by Craig Wood

Updike ventures into unexpected territory in trying to tell the story of an 18-year-old Arab-American terrorist living in post-9/11 New Jersey. The book was published in 2006, when Updike was 74 years old. On a believability scale of 1 to 10, this one comes in pretty close to zero. Although I enjoyed the story-line tremendously, and appreciated how things came together tensely at the end, the obvious flaws in character believability overwhelmed me. Kudos to Updike for trying, but this one was simply too much of a stretch.Ahmad, a disenchanted Irish-Arab-American teen-ager, fatherless, gravitates to an extremist imam, who molds the boy into a combustible ball of hatred--hatred of his country and of the infidels around him. A saucy black schoolmate provides the wispy threads of a would-be romance. And his ineffectual Irish mother, so invisible in Ahmad's life, hooks up with Ahmad's Jewish guidance counselor, who has a weird quasi-presence throughout the book. By now you see the problem. As formidable as Updike's talents are, these characters are so far from his sweet spot that nothing feels credible. Rabbit is so much closer to home, so much easier to believe.I think "Terrorist" could be made into a great movie some day. The story is there--interesting, volatile, germane. Introduce more depth to the characters, and bring the dialogue down to earth, and it's a slam-dunk winner. If you're a big fan of Updike like I am, go ahead and read "Terrorist". It'll show you another side of this great American author. Just don't expect the book to knock your socks off.

Updike is a Great Writer, but . . .

by CV Rick

Terrorist follows a year in the life of Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy, son of an Irish-Catholic mother and an Egyptian father who abandoned both of them when Ahmad was a baby. John Updike is a terrific writer and his characters, in this book, come alive with real feelings and motivations. Ahmad is trying to be a faithful Muslim; his mother, Teresa, is a free-love artist with a string of boyfriends, his school guidance counselor, Jack, is a lapsed Jew with a fat wife and he ends up sleeping with Teresa; Jorylynn, his high school crush is a pretty ghetto girl who turns tricks; and Shaikh Rashid is his spiritual teacher at the Mosque.Therein lies the problem: all these wonderful characters and yet not a single one breaks out of the expectations of stereotype. Ahmad is destined to strike a blow for Islam against the evil Zionist America. Teresa is blind as a mother can be to her son's extremism even while he hates her for her harlot ways. Jack is whiny and self-centered, like "jews" are pictured in poorly thought-out fiction or self-deprecating comedy, only this isn't a comedy. The Immam, Rashid, guides his pupil to a glorious day for Allah - an explosion that will bring joy to people across the Middle-East.I feel as if this was Updike's character study into what would turn a pious American Muslim into a suicide bomber. Unfortunately, he surrounded the protagonist with cardboard characters and published his character study as a novel. It just didn't do it for me. People are more complex than those Updike creates and this story leaves us in the lurch, with a nice tidy ending for an untidy world dilemma.It was an enjoyable read, but ultimately unfulfilling. If you want a story that shows the course of terrorism in a more realistic light, watch the third season of Battlestar Galactica.- CV Rick

Five Stars For Effort, Two For Execution

by Dai-keag-ity

I took this novel to Washington DC with me this week and can say the subtle paranoia I discovered in our nation's capital seems ready-made to underscore a work like Terrorist. Given that the time would seem right for a novel like this to make its appearance, I would have figured on it rising higher than it thus far has on the best-seller lists. I think negative word of mouth reviews might hurt its progress, and also I do expect it is hamstrung somewhat by the fact that this simply does not seem at all like an Updike novel. As I launched into its wavering prose (at times gorgeous and at others sloppy) I kept thinking that this was a first effort by an unknown (and marginally talented) writer, and had to keep reminding myself that the man whose name was on the cover has penned several dozen excellent works.For those who might be unaware, the basic story here revolves around a young man, Ahmad, half-American, half-Egyptian, living in the United States, and this young man's descent into hatred for the US and the decadent, anti-Muslim culture he becomes convinced it celebrates and embodies. To a degree this is topical subject matter, given the age in which we live, and concerns a type of character that is both very real (in fact today's news headlines screamed about the arrest of a cell of "home grown terrorists") and yet somehow one already prone to overuse and over-dramatized stereotype. Updike's story of how a radical cleric, Rashid, reaches into the brain and soul of a teenager and corrupts him into what Ahmad becomes toward novel's end reads more as a thriller than the literary writing on which John Updike built his sixty-year career. So shallow was it in some parts Terrorist almost radiated that one-dimensional good-versus-evil quality I mentally associated with the "Reefer Madness/Red Scare" propaganda tomes of what I'd thought were times past.I was let down by Terrorist. It was not such a terrible book that it deserves excoriation, but I wasn't surprised, moved, impressed, or enlightened by the experience of reading it. I do not feel I have any more profound understanding of the psychology of a would-be radical Muslim criminal, nor do I feel I've been presented with a tale of innocence lowered to corruption that is worthy of a higher rating than the one I gave it up above.

Rabbit Lives

by David Schweizer "Almawood"

Updike has a special take on the modern world. Who can forget "Rabbit Is Rich," which among other things is a rich take on America's decline and the rise of the seedy young. "Terrorist" pits Updike's classic middle-aged schlump against another youth, this time a self-righteous punk with the Koran backing up his discontent. It's perfect for Updike, because through the kid's eyes we find Updike's relentless search for signs of American decline, moral decay, advanced capitalism as it takes down the great society. And what a perfect location: Paterson, New Jersey, that once graceful home to the likes of William Carlos Williams, now a grubby, abandoned ghetto, home to urban blight and angry immigrants who came looking for roads paved with gold but found pot holes and streets unsafe to walk. Updike loves decay. He has an eye for signs of degradation. How perfect to place his hopes in a Jewish guidance counselor married to a fat woman, now too blubbery for sex. And our little terrorist is, of course, the son of an American white chick, a middle-aged bohemian slut whose sexual needs are as great as her son's spiritual ones. Updike knows this territory so well; it is as though 9/11 was invented for his fertile imagination. His genius is uniquely suited to a fanatic's take on our decline. Puritanism has always been Updike's stock and trade. That combined with his masterful take one man's search for meaning if not a good lay makes this a fun read.

A Work of Imagination That Doesn't Ring True

by Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!"

After every attack on the United States, waves of paranoia have swept the nation. If we go back through these attacks since the American Revolution, we find a consistent history though that those who were born in the country that did the attacking but live in the U.S. are loyal to America. In part the paranoia builds because politicians and the media make hay from such fears. Eventually, everyone calms down and sees their fear is exaggerated.As I read John Updike's book, I kept thinking that this was a book designed to explain what doesn't appear to be the case . . . a native-born American becoming a terrorist who follows Islamic beliefs to pursue Jihad. From the beginning, the premise didn't ring true. And the story itself rang even less true.If you can get past that point, you still have to deal with Mr. Updike trying to describe something that's very different from his own cultural experiences. Mr. Updike seems to have worked hard at it, but again his depictions of the characters don't ring true to me.Here's the story in a nutshell. A young man, Ahmad Ashmaway Mulloy, decides to identify with his absent father's Egyptian heritage while being raised by his round-heeled Irish-American mother with whom he doesn't feel very connected or comfortable. The identity becomes centered on practicing Islam. At the local mosque, he's encouraged to stop his education after high school to become a truck driver. Depressed guidance counselor, Jack Levy, tries to dissuade Ahmad, but only succeeds in becoming his mother's lover. Ahmad is introduced to the Chehab family, whose furniture store needs a new driver. Pretty soon, he's being sounded out for his feelings about Jihad. In the background, he has an ineffective attempt to become friends with a young African-American woman, Joryleen Grant, whose boyfriend and protector, Tylenol, is on Ahmad's case. Jack's sister-in-law is high in the Homeland Security apparatus which provides a "How are we going to stop them?" perspective to story.Ironically, the best parts of the book involve quoting from the Qur'an and describing Ahmad's reactions to the passages. The next best parts come in the occasional uses of humor, such as when Charlie Chehab decides to call Ahmad, "Madman."But if you want to scare yourself about native-born Americans joining up with al-Qaeda, this is your book.

guess I'm in the minority here

by E. M. Bristol "bibliophile"

but I was a bit baffled by this book. For one thing, the writing was so uneven. There were beautiful, evocative descriptions of the New Jersey suburb, and then there was sexual metaphor that reminded me all too well why I avoid cheesy romance novels like the plague.I know this sounds incredibly presumptuous, but it seemed to me like Updike made a mistake a lot of first time novelists make by not trusting his reader enough. I think anyone who picks up a book like this can be expected to remember which character is obese, which is Jewish, which wears black jeans and white shirts, and which has gorgeous green eyes without it having to be hammered home throughout the book. Quite a few writers out there do seem rather enamored with the color of their protagonists' skin and eyes and so forth, but I for one would prefer more time to be devoted to developing their thoughts, feelings, personalities and motives. Especially motives. If a basically non-violent young man who is not a complete sheep is going to decide to carry out a suicide mission, it needs to be clearer what's going on inside his head. Updike gives us various motives, but none seems strong enough for him to decide to take such a militant course of action.As reviewers have mentioned the titular "terrorist" winds up being the most likeable character in the book, but he gets this by default. The other characters are inoffensive at best and repugnant at worst. True a character can be deeply flawed and likeable at the same time, but that did not really apply to any of the ones in this book. In fact, I consistently got the feeling that it wasn't really the protagonist who looked down on the Americans around him, it was Updike.

Fast-Paced Literary Thriller

by Ethan Cooper

TERRORIST is definitely a novel by John Updike, since it showcases his awesome lyrical prose while exploring the lives of characters in which sex is nil, awakening, reawakening, or commoditized. At the same time, this book has a rapid and suspenseful pace with certain sections--Ahmad's stealthy journey to find the white truck, for example--offering the intensity of a first-rate thriller.As many reviewers have already said, this is Updike working in a new genre, giving us more pace but plenty of angst as he shifts his focus from what's usually described as a sensibility of white suburban privilege and provides an urban bildungsroman in a multi ethnic (and fanatical) America. It's scary, especially his imagining of a low-tech terrorism threat to Manhattan.This is not to say that TERRORIST is a perfect novel. It's hard to accept Ahmad's voice, although Updike certainly explains how it could exist. And, his behavior in the Lincoln Tunnel drew a "say what!" reaction from me. Nonetheless, this hardly matters, since this voice and single action are just part of an involving flow and mosaic of characters, as the plot of TERRORIST seems to move inexorably toward a massive and deadly explosion.In a recent issue of THE NEW YORKER, Updike reviewed the final works of several novelists, pondering how their approaching deaths affected their work. I'm sure I speak for many when I say that I hope Updike is well and will continue to supply us with more of his wonderful novels.

frightening intense thriller

by Harriet Klausner

His Egyptian father abandoned him and his mother when he was three. Now fifteen years later in New Prospect, New Jersey high school student Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy scorns his hippie Irish-American mother turning to the Islamic teachings of Shaikh Rashid, who runs a storefront mosque for spiritual and emotional guidance. Shaikh advocates retribution to those supporting the Zionist American government.Ahmad heeds the call to arms against the decadent American culture though he at times acts like a teen when he "competes" for the attention of Joryleen Grant against Tylenol Jones. Central High School Jewish near retirement guidance counselor Jack Levy tries to help Ahmad, but the student sees him as the epitome of why America is a failure. The lad is on the fast self actualization track starting with low esteem metamorphosing into a need to believe and belong to finally turning into a potential TERRORIST.Using stereotypes to display flawed characters, John Updike is at his best with this frightening intense thriller in which he makes it clear that social strata and economics make for the breeding grounds of terrorists here (Think England), in Iraq and elsewhere. The author's basic premise is that the West is losing the hearts of children who find physiological and psychological nourishment elsewhere while leaders posture like Panglois (Candide) that this is the best of all worlds. The TERRORIST is chilling.Harriet Klausner

Important but shy of great

by Jay

With John Updike's recent death, I have challenged myself to read a few of his recent works ... to check on his growth and endurance in the wonderful stream of American literary fiction."Terrorist" shows Updike's unparalleled lyricism, his soaring sentences and genius for descriptive flourishes. No one writing today -- and no one who has written so well in the last 50 years -- has Updike's intelligence for metaphor. His use of figurative language remains unequaled. His writing, at times, can take your breath away as you think, "That's it! That's exactly right! Wow!"So ... the work shows an intelligence casting its penetrating gaze upon religious extremism, shows a grasp of Islam that's almost stunning. He has done his research, and he understands (what doesn't this man understand when he turns his mind to it?) the ulimately elusive nature of final answers. We search for them, in all faiths, yet they remain out of reach.And that for me seems to be the failing of this fine work. We seek an insight or two, something that allows us an epiphany, however slim. We hope that Updike's searing and lofty intelligence will take us there ... but it cannot. We finish the book still questioning, still longing for answers ... as do Ahmad, Jack, Teresa. Updike's disappointment, our disappointment at the end of the book, is humanity's ultimate disappointment. There are no final answers, no one path or way to transcend this veil of tears called life.

Good...not great...not quite 4 stars

by J. Brandt

I picked up this book after seeing the title (and the author). The book is a current look at the world of terrorism from the vantage point of a young kid (Ahmad Mulloy) who is the son of an Egyptian father (who left him years ago) and an Irish mother. Ahmad sees the United States and the community he lives in with disdain as he grows deeper in his Islamic faith. He is encouraged in this belief by a local Imman. Updike takes you into the mind of Ahmad and into the life of a Jewish guidance counselor (Mr. Levy) who befriends Ahmad (and Ahmad's mother) as he tries to steer Ahmad towards college. Ahmad has other plans and it does not take much to realize how his career choice will help him become a terrorist.I enjoyed the book a great deal, but I can't make myself give it 4 stars. The plot was good and the characters and their lives were interesting, but I got tired of the long winded descriptions that Updike used throughout the book and wore out on the constant issue of how large (i.e. fat) the wife of the guidance counselor had become. The ending was interesting (not quite what I expected) and it's worth a read, but it could have been a better book.

It CAN happen here

by J. Marren "jtm497"

Alienation, cynicism, consumerism and heedless sexuality--this is the grim picture of American society that Updike paints in "Terrorist," John Updike's latest. Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy is the son of an Egyptian father who disappeared long ago and an Irish mother who fancies herself a free spirit. Adrift in high school in the failing factory town of New Prospect (obviously Paterson, New Jersey), Ahmad clings to Islam in a world where he has no place. He unwittingly becomes ensnared in a terrorist plot, seduced by men who treat him with respect for the first time in his life.Updike tells a frighteningly contemporary story that is at the same time the story of so many extremist movements. Poverty, rootlessness, separation--in the wrong hands this volatile mix can be manipulated to violent purposes.Told from the inside, Updike illustrates how sickeningly easy it is to indoctrinate young people. Ahmad is truly an innocent--he suppresses his doubts and carries on as all the cynical handlers who have brought him to the point of no return head for the hills.Updike has always been an astute critic of American society, and this book is no different. His writing is as gorgeous as ever. Some complain that the piling on of detail makes for slow going, but after all, Ahmad's story is long, his seduction lasting many years and painstakingly managed. Agreeing to blow oneself up in the name of Allah isn't a snap decision, and there are any number of points where Ahmad could be saved.I loved this book. It's riveting, frightening and easy to imagine carrying over to headlines on the front page of the New York Times. I highly recommend it.

An intriguing, if ultimately unsuccessful look at radical Islam's attraction.......

by John Kwok

John Updike is without question one of our finest novelists, and all of his elegant literary gifts are brought to bear in "Terrorist", his latest novel. Truly it is, in many respects, a splendid work of fiction, replete with interesting characters and skillfully written prose; however, it is at best, an intriguing, if ultimately unsuccessful look at radical Islam's attraction to one disaffected American teenager. Moreover, I find the novel's conclusion a bit too preposterous, echoing a reviewer (Amitav Ghosh of the Washington Post Book World) who observed that Updike thinks that American multiculturalism is the best means of combatting radical Islam. I agree simply because radical Islamists do regard American multiculturalism as a sign of our weakness and moral inferiority to those who believe in the true faith as revealed by the one true god (Allah). Updike could have written a more compelling, insightful novel by truly delving into protagonist Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy's rationale for converting to Islam in his early adolescene, and by surrounding him with characters that are far less stereotypical than the radical Muslim terrorists and his single mother which he depicts so well (This is a subject of ample interest to me since a relative of mine was the United States Army Muslim chaplain stationed at Camp Gitmo back in 2003, and the subject of extensive press coverage.). In stark contrast, Updike succeeds in creating a truly human, rather conflicted, character in guidance counselor Jake Levy, whose sudden interest in Ahmad leads to a series of events which are unforseen for both, and of course, the unexpected, hopeful conclusion at the novel's end. I am still waiting for the definitive novel which will explore the attraction of radical Islam to some Americans; regrettably, "Terrorist", isn't, and yet, I can still give it a positive recommendation to those interested in reading yet another fine work of fiction from John Updike.

"America is paved solid with fat and tar"

by John L Murphy "Fionnch"

I took my title phrase from Jack Levy's interior monologue. The featured synopses on Amazon delve into the plot, and the strengths and weaknesses have been already analyzed by others posting here. I rarely read Updike, about a novel a decade it seems, but I was inspired to seek this out by a mention of it in the paper recently-- it compared Updike's gutsy, if flawed, portrayal of ambivalence and detachment of one living in America to the consumerist, flaccid, and degraded culture that many throughout the world both envy us for creating and hate us for flaunting.Ahmad and Jack alternate for most of the book, and I found their mental landscapes worthy of exploration. Updike's taken great care in attempting to convey the alienated worldview both his leading figures share. Teaching in the inner city myself, I recognized many of Jack's musings as closer to my own than I'd have liked to contemplate. He thinks of himself as a guidance counselor, but one who waves good-bye to his graduates as they slip off the edge into the "world's morass."For his Muslim teenager, awkward and holy, sexual and repressed, Updike may naturally be on less familiar ground, but the author does manage to make his inner "jihad" convicing, especially in scenes that on the outside appear to be small talk to both men, but inside show the tensions of secular vs. believer, jaded elder vs. idealistic youth, often with insight, compassion, and verve. Ahmad's compared by the slightly omniscient narrator late in the novel as like a restless insect, in a typically eloquent passage: "His soul feels like one of those out-of-season flies that, trapped in winter in a warm room, buzz and insistently bump against the glass of a window saturated with the sunlight of an outdoors wherein they would quickly die." (238)One of the lasting effects I take away from this ambitious novel is not only the decay of the city, which reminds me of Philip Roth's New Jersey, but in Updike's attempt to render the estranged perspective of Shaikh Rashid and his teaching of the Qur'an. The formidable passages selected for instruction hover as if from another dimension, and are well chosen, especially the Al-Nur sura of the light and the mirage, and that of the tale "of the men of the elephant before the assault of the birds." (275)Updike may fail to convince me in the chatter of Joryleen or Charlie of his ear for ordinary dialogue, but with Jack, the Shaikh, and Ahmad, the author shows that he can enter characters who we might think of as opposites of ourselves, and as his talent proves despite the rather formulaic storyline, Updike dares to take on a subject that for its own inherent drama and conflict will keep you reading late into the night.

A Novel that Explains a Lot

by John Matlock "Gunny"

There have been a lot of books lately on terrorism. They vary from the the history of actual events, to a psychological evaluation of the terrorist mind. Most of the fictional books feature the author's superhero chracter tho triumphs over the bad guys.John Updike, one of the icons of American letters has taken this from the other side. His protagonist is an eighteen year old Arab-American youth. The setting is a fictional town in New Jersey that has been passed by the American Dream. Poor, disaffected, brown in skin (the books talks a lot about the shades of brown skin), from a single parent home, he finds a place in the radical side of the muslim religion. The result is a descent into terrorism.Mr. Updike is able to show how such a person, perhaps one already inclined that way before, can be led by a hate filled mentor (the local imam) to commit acts of terrorism. All in all, it makes too much sense. I am left wondering not why this boy was turned terrorist, but why aren't there a lot more. After all, look at the kids at Columbine school who were not poor, brown, etc. and didn't have an authority figure such as an imam leading them to commit the shooting.This is a novel, easy to read, yet educational in a way that non-fiction can't seem to carry across.

Wonderful and timely work from Updike

by Joseph C. Sweeney

This outstanding effort should be required reading for all lovers of contemporary American fiction. Terrific stuff from one of the great American writers.

Vintage Updike with a twist - or two

by Joseph Palen

Having not read John Updike since the Rabbit died, I had forgotten what a great writer he was (and still is at 74), and also how much I enjoyed getting completely immersed in his books. He can still bring us into the scene until we can see it and almost smell it - one of the great masters of poetic, descriptive minutia. The overall view is there too, and we see that the societal deterioration that plagued Rabbit has further progressed, spawning some new reactions. A good place to learn more about Islam and to see the other side of a picture such as we never see in the news. Also, toward the end, an exercise in holding our breath. Although Updikes sexual episodes are more graphic than I prefer (he has not lost that either at 74), all in all a really good book, and I am very glad he is still writing.

It isn't that simple. It never is.

by Kevin Currie-Knight

Charlie is asking him a question. "Would you fight them, then?"Ahmed has missed what "them" refers to but says "Yes" as if answering a roll call.Charlie appears to repeat himself: "Would you fight with your life?""How do you mean?"[2006 hardcover, p. 188]This is one of those novels where you sort of think you know the ending, and are reading to find out how it happens. Ahmed, we know, is a young man about to graduate from a New Jersey high school and is a convinced muslim of the fundamentalist kind. We know, at some point, that he will step towards terrorism (some call it martyrdom) and read to witness this infuriating transformation.But Ahmed is one in a web of characters: Mr. Jake Levy, the high school guidance counselor determined to 'save' the boy, his wife Beth, Ahmed's Shaikh Rashid, Ahmed's mother.... and a few others touching Ahmed's life here and there.What the novel tries to - and, in my estimation, succeeds in - doing is to give us a glimpse of how a terrorist is made - what are the psychological ingredients. Disillusionment with the 'sinfulness' of modern consumeristic trends, so strong a belief in Islam that one begins to despise all that is not in its accord, a view of onesself as God's instrument and one's own will as subordinate.I think Updike does a good job with all of this owing, in part, to the fact that he writes from the mind of the terrorist on its terms, rather than writing as someone explaining the terrorist mindset before giving an editorial on it. In other words, he tries - as much as a Boston Catholic can - to give Ahmed his own voice and let that voice stand, for better or worse, on its own feet.As a secularist myself, this is what made the novel both infuriating and rewarding. Infuriating because I found myself mentally yelling at Ahmed; rewarding because the novel took my mind to a place it struggles to understand. While I can't claim that Updike got his terrorist character correct (as I know no terrorists to compare it to) his report jibes with much of what we have learned about terrorists and their motives from the press (who actually can be correct sometimes!).If there is one criticism I have - a small one, but we should be obligated to criticize in our reviews at least once - it is that the ending was somewhat unbelievable and abrupt. But we can all make up our own minds on that one.Simply put, I am glad I read this novel. It is that rare form of diversion that actually makes you feel like you are learning something you might not have had you avoided it.

Timely Old Man

by Kevin Killian

For those who had stopped reading John Updike, the publication of timely TERRORIST was a warning shot fired into the night sky by an angry militia. By the time it was over I was drenched with admiration for the aging wunderkind who just wouldn't quit and instead delivered when challenged.I had to keep putting the book down, tracing my thumbs across the cover, to convince myself it was really John Updike, for he is such a creature of the 1950s and 1960s he should be freeze-dried, shrink-wrapped and thrust into a time capsule to represent a difficult time for American letters. His publishers have never let him forget his origins, either, and keep producing his novels using the exact same format they did in 1959, which is touching in a way--their faith, his acquiescence. When I tore the jacket off the book that reassuring Janson font greeted me like an old pensioner at a family reunion.It was the one feeling of warmth I had reading this extraordinarily bleak and cool novel. It is one thing for Updike to say to himself, "I think I'll write about Arab Americans now," and another to present his findings in fictional form, and have them come out so stereotypical. Why does Ahmad talk the way he does, if he was born and bred in the hood and never opened the Koran till he was 11? Now he's impersonating Pster Lorre in THE MALTESE FALCON with his inverted sentences and his calculatedly faux-polite speech, subaltern dialogue from a mandarin's POV. I can say nothing about Tylenol Jones and Joryleen that hasn't already been said by a dozen shocked readers, except that the spirit of DW Griffith lives on in John Updike and it's a wonder Al Sharpton hasn't invoked a boycott of Knopf and Company. That said, I wound up concerned and anxious about the end of the book, what was going to happen, would Ahmad become a terrorist or go the other way? Would Jack Levy cheat on fat Beth with freckled Terry, the mother of Ahmad? (Well, adultery is a given, it's Updike's world and we're just co-respondents in it.) Until the last page Ibwasn't sure which way the chips would fall. That's suspense, and my cavilling isn't worth a tinker's dam I guess, except, well, you know.

The Jungle for the 9/11 generation

by L. Bravim

John Updike certainly makes a series of sociopolitical statements inTerrorist: A Novel. The first, perhaps most suprising considering the title, is that a single mother raising an adolescent boy will be challenged to deeply understand her son. This challenge will be magnified if that son happens to be of a different race, ethnicity or religion. The second statement Updike makes is that we really do not need to worry about terrorism from the Middle East and South Asia, there are tens of thousands of potential terrorists right here at home, many of them seemingly integrated U.S. citizens.The plot is simple: a young, fatherless Muslim teen is being standoffishly raised by a working, white mother. He identifies strongly with his religion and is easy prey for manipulation by an Imam at the local mosque. Slowly, he is turned from a rather ordinary high school senior into a terrorist capable of killing hundreds or even thousands of innocent people.The most interesting aspect ofTerrorist: A Novelis the subtly psychological change in the protagonist, Ahmad Mulroy. He begins with dated critiques of American secularism, consumerism and relativism and from there becomes determined to destroy the Godless for Allah. It is a scary premise that all one needs is a diver's license to commit mass murder, but startlingly real.The late John Updike won't win any contests for imaginative prose, but he gets the job done with brisk storytelling. The reader may grow tired of Ahmad's holier-than-thou piety and wish more time were spent on the minor character Joryleen, a fascinating case study in itself on teen dating violence. But Ahmad's one-time crush is neglected for his mother and a Jewish guidance counselor. Though integral to the novel's climax, they are far less interesting as characters.As literature,Terrorist: A Novelis nothing special. But as a wakeup call to those who think America is safer is she simply closes the borders to outsiders, it is effective. This isThe Jungle (Dover Thrift Editions)for the 9/11 generation. Some readers will justifiably hard the unlikely, Deus ex machina ending.

Not very accurate

by Lipplog "lipplog"

Unlike the book, there's a reason why none of the Terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were carried out by American Muslims. BECAUSE THEY'RE AMERICAN. In Updike's book all the reasons main character gives for hating America (fast food, fast life style, materialism, etc.) are superficial and have nothing to do with the ACTUAL complaints the Muslim world has against us. If anything, these are the complaints Mr. Updike has against the culture. So if you want an ACCURATE portrayal of the mind of a Terrorist, read Anthony Shadid's "Night Draws Near" and Marc Sageman's "Understanding Terrorist Networks".

Not child abuse

by Mary E. Sibley

It is assumed the terrorist of the title is Ahmad. He has an Egyptian father and American, (Irish), mother. What would going to school in, say, Paterson, New Jersey do to an Arabic adolescent?Jack Levy is 63. He is a guidance counselor at Ahmad's high school. His wife, a Lutheran, works at the Clifton Public Library. The couple shops at BestBuy and ShopRite weekends. They love their son Mark. Jack knows Mark doesn't really want his parents to live near him.The boy receives religious instruction at a mosque located above a check-cashing establishment. His full name is Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy. He intends to drop the Mulloy after high school. Jack's wife's name is Beth. She has a sister, Hermione, who never married. Hermione is an assistant to the Secretary of Homeland Security, a man from Updike's natal state, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is the home state of Beth and Hermione, also.Ahmad's mother and Jack Levy become involved with each other. Ahmad drives a furniture truck. He delivers an ottoman to an address at the New Jersey shore, and he notices that the ottoman is filled with money. A girl Ahmad knew in high school advises him to get away from the truck. It is almost as if his bosses are preparing him for something. The Chehabs, his employers, are significant members of his mosque, it seems.Ahmad does not tell his mother of the shortcut to Paradise he is about to take. There is terror and exhaltation as planning for the event in the tunnel proceeds. Ahmad concurs, (is there a tape, a government informant trying to establish a lack of entrapment), that he as not been coerced. He is to drive the loaded truck to the tunnel. Jack Levy finds Ahmad and the truck. He has learned from his sister-in-law Hermione that Ahmad's boss, a CIA operative, is dead.Updike's portrait of the teenager is realistic. Motivation comes from bullying at school and naive, misplaced, faith. The youth moves in a sort of fog, as one would expect of the real article. The book is excellent and moving and the details, the consumer-ridden context of the lives of the characters, are droll.

Gripping Story

by Mary Lins

Updike's "Terrorist" is a scathing look at American culture that is difficult to deny. The novel is at once believable and unbelievable - just as are the times in which we are living.As this is my first Updike novel I am compelled to ask - are his women characters always so universally repulsive? I thought I was reading Hemmingway there for a minute!

From Kid to Killer?

by mrliteral

Despite the fact that I read a lot of books and John Updike has written a lot of books, I have only read one of his books around 20 years ago. I wasn't overly impressed with my first exposure to him, but I'm a more mature reader now and thought I'd give him another try with Terrorist. This time, I was much happier.Terrorist is the story of Ahmad Mulloy, a high school senior in New Jersey. The product of a broken home - an absent father and an overworked mother - he has sought guidance elsewhere and has become a devout Muslim. Maybe too devout, as the book's title implies: he is a borderline fanatic, which will lead him into the company of some driven individuals.There are other characters, in particular Jack Levy, Ahmad's high school counselor who tries to give Ahmad alternate directions in life while also having a not-so-professional relationship with Ahmad's mother. Then there is Joryleen, who despite her upbeat attitude, is probably the saddest character in the book.I'm sure there are those who would be critical of Updike for humanizing a young man who may very well be a terrorist. I, on the other hand, find it useful to be reminded that terrorists do not spring up from the Earth fully formed; they develop into them just like others develop into more benevolent types. And Ahmad has other qualities, both good and bad: for example, he is studious and respectful, but also intolerant of others who do not meet his high standards.Agreeing with Updike (or me) is not essential; I can read and enjoy books by authors who I disagree with. What is more important is that Terrorist is a good book and thought-provoking. It is a reminder that the world is not black-and-white but is a whole spectrum of grays.


by Ohioan

I read this book when it was first published because it received excellent reviews. I shouldn't have, it shouldn't have. Updike is a superior writer: his sentences seem effortless, he moves into and out of the mind of his characters with ease, he plots well, he is concerned with serious subjects. But in this case, his plot is too simple-minded, his characters aren't examined in depth, and he never really shows us why this 18-year-old Arab-American teen became a terrorist. He shows us "that" he became a terrorist, but the reasons Ahmed does so seem superficial: he hates the fast-food culture, he hates materialism. Hundreds of thousands of teens could say the same thing. Why does Ahmed become a terrorist and they don't? That's what's missing. And the ending is too pat, too coincidental, too unbelievable. I admire Updike's attempt, but am disappointed with the results.

dangerous brainwashed teenager

by Patti "PattisPages"

This book moves along rather sleepily at first, but Updike is just setting the stage for things to come. He takes a very disturbing look at the insidious way in which a religion or cause can mold a malleable young person into a pawn for sinister purposes. In this case, the cause is Muslim extremism a year after 9/11. Its prey is Ahmad, who has embraced Islam as his rudder through the usual taunts and temptations associated with being an American teenager. His high school guidance counselor is Jack Levy, a non-practicing Jew, who finds out too late that Ahmad, an excellent student and athlete, has no plans for college. Ahmad, instead, plans to drive a truck for a living, setting off alarms with the reader as to whether he will have a mission other than furniture delivery. Jack is more like the protagonist of Updike's Rabbit series, suffering from ennui and disillusionment. He's the perfect antagonist to Ahmad's singular purpose. What especially got to me was the pursuit of someone so young and promising to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause. His purity is so appealing that it's particularly upsetting to realize that he's being used. Although it's easy to target Islam as the seducer here, just remember that Jim Jones was not a Muslim.

Buy it but be prepared to be disappointed -- or impressed

by Peter G. Keen "rabidreader"

I love Updike's work. The four-decade biography of Rabbit is one of the masterpieces of modern literature. Gertrude and Claudius, The Centaur, his short stories...... superb.For me that means that any novel by Updike should be read by every serious reader. Even when it doens't quite work, as this one does not for me. There's something flat and almost formalistic in the exegesis. It lacks that brilliant constant contrasting of his evocative and poetic beauty and sometimes jolting raunch and brutality. I did not engage with the characters.I gave this book just two stars. I would not recommend it to anyone who does not know and admire Updike's work. The plot tells you little about the book itself so don't buy it as a story about "terrorism". It is far more nuanced and complex than that and in many ways the terrorist is not the real focus of the narrative; yet another of Updike's world-weary, fatalistic males is the core character that one cares for.I do recommend it anyway. I didn't enjoy it much and had to push myself to work through it. Many of the Amazon reviewers love the book, by contrast. Updike deserves our respect -- and reading. But be forewarned -- this is not beach time reading. There is a strong case to be made that there are three truly great and very different US novelists of the last fifty years: Roth, Bellow and Updike. If you are a devotee of any one of them, then you really should read The Terrorist.Anyway, if you haven't read the Rabbit books or The Centaur, you have missed out on works of truly classic quality.

Not quite vintage Updike but still makes for an exhilirating read !

by Reader from Singapore

John Updike's latest novel "Terrorist" shows that the old master has lost none of his flair. Updike to me is the most genuinely literate and readable of American writers. Here, he traces the seemingly innocuous path Ahmad, a mixed race American born of an Egyptian immigrant father and an Irish American mother, takes from college dropout to part-time trucker to terrorist, when he agrees to martyr himself by undertaking a suicide mission that would wreak havoc on a society he has come to despise and in the process secure himself a place in heaven.Updike isn't so much interested in exploring the psyche of fanaticism in terrorism as in revealing the plain awful truth that there really isn't a lot to admire about modern day living in our western secular society. To Ahmad's mind, the sexually promiscuous tangled lives those around him lead attests to the fact that THAT can't be the way the Almighty has meant us to live our lives. Look at his own mother Teresa Mulloy, who merely debases herself when she goes from one lover to another in search of temporary meaning in her life, or his guidance counselor Jack Levy who begins a pathetic casual affair with Teresa in a desperate attempt to dispel the sickly smell of failure about his own self, or the grossly overweight Beth (Jack's wife) who is so fat she can't get out of her sofa so spends her day watching soap on the telly whilst chomping up bags of biscuits and crisps, or Joryleen, his Afro-American friend from college, who sings in church but casually trades sex simply to please his bully of a boyfriend.Updike's distaste for the decadence of modern secular living is nowhere more evident than in the torrid prose he employs, often to devastating effect. However, in places he goes over the top in his diatribe and when he does, turns his characters into convenient mouthpieces for his own views. Updike's characterization is, as usual, simply masterful - even the minor characters are fully formed and believable - but loses his grip on the plot with a denouement that left me bamboozled. I re-read the last chapter simply to make sure I hadn't missed anything but I could find nothing to help me understand the author's intention. If Ahmad knew why he was doing it, surely what he was told wouldn't have mattered.Despite a disappointing ending, the immaculate quality of Updike's prose and his honest and searing expose of modern secular living makes "Terrorist" an essential and highly entertaining read. Not quite vintage Updike perhaps but it sure beats many titles that have gone on to claim nominations for prestigious book awards.

Stereotypes Preaching, But Well

by Richard A. Mitchell "Rick Mitchell"

The main character of this book is an 18 year old fanatical Muslim. Everywhere he goes he sees infidels breaking God's commandments and Mohammed's teachings.This novel goes from one religious preaching segment to another. There is a complete sermon by a black fundamentalist preacher. Every page has the boy's insights. There are also frequent lessons from his imam. The only character who does not preach (until the very end) is the Jewish guidance couselor.The characters are shallow and stereotypical. As such they are extremely predictable in their words and actions.The plot is extremely predictable. You know the boy will become a terrorist. Since the book takes place in a NYC suburb in 2004, you also know he will not accomplish his act of terror. The only unpredictable part of the plot is the ending -probably because it is so improbable. The plot is not the purpose of the book, however, merely the stage for thoughts and the words of the characters.The book has several assets. The writing is typical Updike. Although the preaching does not contain much original thought, Mr. Updike expresses the positions of the black preacher and the fanatical imam effectively. One can see how the black preacher's words, although logical, are rarely heeded. Conversely, the imam obviously twists the words of the Koran to his fanatical purposes and the highly intelligent boy drinks it in even over some nagging doubts.Mr. Updike has nicely framed the picture of how the militant Muslims view the United States and anyone they consider infidels. By generous quotes from the Koran, the reader can see how the holy book's words can be read for peace or for violence.This is not a classic, nor even close, but I recommend it for a decent fictional view of today's hottest issue. Read it for the thoughts proferred, not the plot nor the characters.

It's an Updike novel, of course

by R S Cobblestone

Hmmm. This book, The Terrorist. Who will like it?1. Readers who already enjoy John Updike.2. See No. 1 above.What is this story? This is a slow moving, slow to develop, and narrow-visioned novel about how an 18-year-old son of an American painter and an Egyptian student turns into a terrorist. It just leaves out everything that happened before he was 18! The story, in "Updikian" fashion, moves in many places at a glacial, detail-obsessed pace. But at crucial times, it leaps ahead. Just what happened when a young truck driver decided, "well, okay, today I will be a martyr for the cause?" This is a key element, and although Updike gives us background into his midset, there is a huge leap between not liking somebody and deciding to kill large numbers of people. Isn't there? Isn't this critical? And how again did a tired high school counselor begin his affair with that painter mom, AND find out what the young man was up to the SECOND he started driving away to... well, I won't tell you (check out the title of the book again).No rush, no catharsis,... this is not a book that will leave you on the edge of your seat. This isn't necessarily bad... it is just a slower book. It is bad if you were expecting something otherwise.Like I said, you have to like Updike's style, because if you don't, you will be disappointed. Rated R for explicit sexual descriptions and language.

A good effort, but not what you expect from Updike

by Scott George

I read this book with great anticipation. I have always been a huge fan of John Updike. Enough so, that I feel awkward writing a lukewarm review of one of his novels. As always, Updike has beautiful style and structure and poignance. Where I think he fell short is in conveying the main character's feelings and motivation.The ability to convey the depth and many facets of a character has always been a strength of Updike and there are glimmers of that here in the minor characters. But, the portrayal of Ahmed and Mr Levy just don't ring true. This novel hinges on an American teenage muslim's move toward extremism. By its nature, that process is difficult and conflicted but we get very little of that with Ahmed. He accepts violence with almost no motivation or conflicting feelings and barely a second thought until the end and then his change of feeling is just as remarkable. The manipulation on the part of Ahmed's mentors is captured well, but what about Ahmed's sense of being manipulated - it is almost absent.I think this was the case of a character that Updike just could not relate to. Few of us can relate to suicide bombers, I suppose, but with as many nonfiction works out there that examine this subject I feel a writer of Updike's talent could have made this character ring true.This would be a two star review if it were not for the fact that it really was entertaining to read. The writing is elegant and the construction is good, but this is not Updike at his best.

Sympathy in the wrong place

by Shalom Freedman "Shalom Freedman"

There are books that should never have been written. This is probably one of them. The author's declared intention of providing a `sympathetic portrait' of a suicide- bomber indicates at the outset how far he has ventured from common sense and decency. One wonders if Updike ever thought of the consequence of how a sympathetic portrait might 'encourage ' followers as Goethe's portrait of suicidal Werther led to a wave of suicides all across Europe.As for the portrait of the suicide- bomber it is in fact a literary exercise of zero- creditability. Here is part of Updike's description of his fictional terrorist , Ahmad Molloy."Devils, Ahmad thinks. These devils seek to take away my God. All day long, at Central High School, girls sway and sneer and expose their soft bodies and alluring hair. Their bare bellies, adorned with shining navel studs and low-down purple tattoos, ask, What else is there to see? Boys strut and saunter along and look dead-eyed, indicating with their edgy killer gestures and careless scornful laughs that this world is all there is -- a noisy varnished hall lined with metal lockers and having at its end a blank wall desecrated by graffiti and roller-painted over so often it feels to be coming closer by millimeters. "This is the language and sophistication of Updike and not the mind and intelligence of a barely - literate eighteen year old , the child of a lower class Irish mother and an absconded Egyptian immigrant father. Updike traces the way the permissive culture of the Western American world his hero is estranged from, a dysfunctional home including an absent father and a promiscuous mother, a charismatic Islamic preacher all work together to turn this intelligent young man into someone who would blow up innocent people in the name of his holier- than- the rest of mankind- faith.Updike as always does careful research, reads the sources, provides `information' about `radical Islam ` and its views. He creates a credible teacher, a Sheik Rashid who is the mis-guider of the young Ahmad and leads him to the world of absolute black and white, where murder of other human beings who one has not known or seen before, is considered the highest virtue just because they are not holy followers of the Koran.Updike also is credible in describing a small - town American high- school world. This is after all his true turf. His portrait of the downbeaten but basically decent guidance teacher Jackie Levy who tries to steer Ahmad to college is another credible touch in the book.But on the whole the book gives a feeling of contrivedness, and falsity, of a bad- taste intellectual exercise. Updike one of the greatest of contemporary American writers, and a person whose essays and articles cover every nook and cranny of American cultural life, has gone badly astray here.Had he truly wished to somehow deal with the subject of suicide- terrorism he would have done better to choose as his subject a victim of such an attack, and not its perpetrator. Had he wished for his readers to feel legitimate moral sympathy he might have written of those who have lost eyes and limbs to terror, those who have lost beloved family members, those who have been given a lifetime of suffering, because fanatically evil people decided to further their political and religious cause without caring about individual human life.This is an indecent book by its fundamental premise, and a poorly carried out exercise by its means of execution.A writer as great as Updike did not need this kind of coda in old age.

More Wonderful Writing, Story Could Be Better.

by S. Henkels

One must be humble in criticizing this Great American Writer, since without question Mr. Updike is a Modern Master. This yarn is filled with terrific descriptions of a modern day urban high school, and its jaded teachers and students. For this alone, it may be worth the read. A youthful senior, part Irish/ part Muslim, meets some seemingly harmless mullahs, and appears to believe some of their unusual ideas. Sub-plots include a well meaning teacher, a kind and credulous girlfriend, and the standard (in this case, not very explicit, fortunately) adulterous affair. Will this nice boy actually commit a horrific terrorist act? The plot thickens, as he trucks his way into the Lincoln Tunnel and the Big City. I will not reveal the ending!

Courageous attempt by the old master

by Sirin

I find my opinions of 'Terrorist' curiously double edged. While I fundamentally agree with those who lament this as a fairly lousy novelistic exercise (no one could possible claim it is a great novel) I do have some sympathy with those who find much to admire in this novel, a bold attempt by Updike to grapple with probably the defining concern of our age - the desire by Islamic fundamentalists to destroy innocent civilians in sudden and horrific acts of terrorism. This novel reminded me a little of Lionel Shriver's 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' which also dealt with another dark side of America, its high school killings. Shriveris hotter on character development; Updike, of course, is the better stylist, but both novels I found similar in being both compelling, brave and faintly ridiculous all at the same time.Updike has focused his energies on writing about an alienated high school graduate, Ahmad, of mixed (Irish/Arabic) parentage, who is convinced by Imams that the Devil saturated society can only be repelled by great measures (blowing yourself up). After leaving his superficial, hollow high school existence behind, he takes a job as a furniture truck driver and winds up driving a truck packed to the gunnells with explosives towards the Jersey Tunnel. The climax is the most compelling and absurd part of the novel, but credit to Updike for trying to pull it off (the last paragraph, by the way, is phenomenal, as great as Bellow's greatest sentences). Along the way, Updike mixes in an interesting tale of his usual cast of characters - American everypersons, with some facet of modernity wearing them down. So we have ageing Jewish professor Jack Levy, tiring, yet still battling to keep his kids at Central High (Ahmad's school) on the rails; his fat wife Beth who struggles even to get up to reload her cookie plate from the jar; the mischevous and sexy Joryleen who Ahmad takes a fancy to, rubbing up against both her body and his own sexual repression enforced by his religion; Joryleen's thuggish jock boyfriend Tylenol who sends her out on the game to bring back the dough.Updike can't really get into the mind of what it is like to be an Islamic Terrorist (not so surprising really). His approach of ramming himself with diligent research makes the key passages wooden, with quotes from the Koran jammed in as if it were a theology essay. Still, it is good of him to try such a bold exercise in the autumn of his writing life, and it shows the old master is not content to just jump through his hoops over and over.

Thoughtful and Engaging - Not So Much about "Them" as About "US"

by Steve Koss

If it were possible to tap into the thoughts of a suicide bomber, what we would hear? Would we find reasoned justification built on historical and socioeconomic argument, or would we encounter nothing more than cult-like belief for its own inarguable sake, unencumbered by counterargument or the sense that there might just be another side to the issue? As Billy Joel sang, "...the only people I fear are those who never have doubts."Billy Joel's song was titled "Shades of Gray." In TERRORIST, John Updike opts in his main character, Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy, for a world without doubts, of a black and white exemplified throughout by his brilliantly crisp, button down white shirts and "stovepipe" black pants. Ahmad is 18, a recent graduate of Central High School in New Prospect, a dreary ruin of a northern New Jersey town modeled on Patterson. Son of an absentee Egyptian father who married his soda-bread-white Irish mother Teresa Mulloy in order to secure his immigration into the U.S., Ahmad is a standoffish geek in high school, the kind of student who would be eating lunch alone every day in the cafeteria. Teresa is the textbook permissive mother, a daytime nurse and aspiring artiste who rationalizes her abdication of parental authority as cultivating her son's independence. In doing so, she entrusts her son from the onset of his teen years to the local Muslim mosque and its secretly radical imam, Shaikh Rashid.Just weeks before his graduation, Ahmad meets (for the first time, it seems) his high school guidance counselor, 63-year-old Jack Levy. Wearied and cynical from years of dealing with his uninspiring high school charges, Jack is intrigued by Ahmad's intellect and seriousness. He cannot fathom why the boy has chosen to follow the dictates of his imam and study for a commercial truck driver's license rather than apply to college. Jack's interest in (and curiosity about) Ahmad leads him to visit the boy's home, where he meets Teresa. Thus begins an extramarital dalliance that provides an awakening in Jack's life and connects him inexorably to Ahmad's evolving role in a terror plot.Updike's title here, TERRORIST, is something of a red herring, a clever misdirection, what Alfred Hitchcock called a McGuffin. TERRORIST is far less the story of Ahmad than it is of Teresa Mulloy, Jack Levy, Jack's grossly overweight wife Beth, Ahmad's classmates Joryleen Grant and Tylenol Jones (a playful cross between National Lampoon's Tyrone Shoelaces and Basketball Jones?), Charlie Chehab, and the physical town of New Prospect as representations of American life and culture. We see most of these people through Ahmad's critical, harshly moralizing eyes. Even when Ahmad is not present, Updike's prose is consistently bleak: a worn out town filled with the boarded up ruins of a more prosperous past, a high school filled with teachers who can't wait to leave every day and students who more than share the same attitude, a feckless Secretary for Homeland Security worried that his place in history is ruined by his "lose-lose" job, and a cast of characters who are damaged goods, all hopelessly "lost in America."As always, Updike's prose is rich in its desperation. Joryleen periodically approaches Ahmad out of curiosity, "coming up to him now and then like a tongue testing a sensitive tooth." Jack perceives his life as "living in housing, gulping down grease, shaving in the morning, taking a shower so you won't disgust the other guys at the conference table with your pheromones." On Ahmad's fateful day, as he walks the city streets to his appointed place, "he sees shabbiness in the streets, the fast-food trash and broken plastic toys, the unpainted steps and porches...the windows cracked and not repaired....Women's voices rise from back rooms in merciless complaint against children who were born uninvited and now collect, neglected, around the only friendly voices in their hearing, those from the television set."In fact, the overall atmosphere of TERRORIST is so unrelentingly negative, Updike often seems to be channeling Andy Rooney, the aging crank convinced that his white hair and wrinkled mien grant him leeway to comment on modern American society as freely and politically incorrectly as he wishes. Consider, for example, his opening descriptions of Central High and New Prospect's downtown. "The halls of the high school smell of perfume and bodily exhalations, of chewing gum and impure cafeteria food..." Those halls contain "graffiti, their bloated boasts of gang affiliation [that] assert an importance to which the perpetrators have pathetically little other claim." Nearby, the downtown area is "a carnival of idleness, thronged by an onrolling mass of dark citizens, a Mardi Gras parade of costumes lovingly assembled by those whose lawful domain extends scarcely an inch beyond their skins, and whose paltry assets are all on view....Their cackling, whooping voices are loud with the village fellowship, the luxuriant mutual attention, of those with little to do and nowhere to go."TERRORIST, by John Updike. The phrase is laughably incongruous, almost oxymoronic, and thrillers are clearly not Updike's genre. Ahmad's conversion to jihadi fundamentalism is more alluded to than described, and his later epiphany arises spontaneously out of nearly thin air, presented in a perfunctory and wholly unconvincing manner. The climax and denouement are disappointing, awkwardly contrived to put a Jew and an Muslim together for a grand finale that resolves as a dispirited whimper. Nevertheless, the real meat in Updike's story is New Prospect and its dreary inhabitants, struggling to find meaning and hope as they live out depressing versions of the American dream. Far from being a story of radical fundamentalist terrorism, this is a story about post-millennial, post-9/11 America - a land of self-centeredness and despair tinged with fear, whose young are sated by mindless hip-hop and titillating but empty culture, and whose middle-aged are saddened by what they and their country have lost. Ultimately, TERRORIST is not a book about "them," those irrational, violent, faith-blinded bogeymen who, we are absurdly told by our crusading President, "hate us for our freedom." Rather, John Updike is critiquing the "us" who constitute their targets. Perhaps we are indeed, as Ahmad thinks to himself, the devils who take others' God away.

Realistic Fear

by Stone Cold Nuts

Updike does a great job of putting us inside the mind of a McVeigh-like Arab-American and the damage homegrown terrorists in this country might accomplish. The plot is very realistic and the book would be worthy for the desk of intelligence analysts, counter-terrorist experts, and local, state and national leaders. The ending isn't "Hollywood" enough, so don't look for this title to make it as a film project, but the book does suck you into the plot and holds your attention, right to the end. Very well done.

Can't Put This Book Down!

by Sylviastel

John Updike's novel, Terrorist, is not what I expected because it is so entertaining, informing, well-researched, and so identifiable in the post September 11, 2001 world. I could see this adapted into a great film starring Julie White (Tony Winner) as Terry Mulloy who is the mother of a devout Muslim son, Ahmad Mulloy. She was married to Egyptian citizen who abandoned her and his son. Ahmad becomes devout practicing Muslim much to the discontent of his liberal, artistic bohemian mother. When Jack Levy, the married guidance counselor, enters the picture, he sees a boy with so much potential that Ahmad would rather get his CDL license than continue his education. THe author provides quite a clear picture of the characters. I could see Jorylee played by Jurnee Smollett, the African American female, who takes an interest in Ahmad despite her boyfriend named Tylenol. Ahmad even visits Joryleen's church and they talk about religion. Ahmad is still involved at the Mosque with the Iman. His Irish Catholic mother allows him to worship and does not try to get him to convert. Ahmad is searching for a father figure maybe in the Iman at the MOsque but certainly not Jack Levy who becomes involved with Terry. I keep envisioning Jack Levy as actor Judd Hirsch in my imagination. A well-written paints a picture of New Jersey life. New Prospect, New Jersey is truly fictional but it could be Newark, Paterson, Irvington or any of the other cities and suburbs combined. Jack Levy works as a guidance counselor and tutors students to get to Ivy League schools. I am totally impressed and with awe in Updike's writing style. Until now, I have never read an Updike book and this one is one of my favorite novels of all time.

A Little Too Close for Comfort

by T. C. Pile "audiobookaholic"

John Updike's story of a Jersey Jihadi coming of age is more than plausible; it's so possible that this could happen that it's truly frightening. We are all so vulnerable, and it's that very vulnerability that Updike's reluctant hero schoolteacher teacher finds he must draw upon if he wants to survive.Terrorist

Unlikely ending

by Tricia Love

This was my first introduction to John Updikes work. I found the book very interesting and well researched. I liked his style of writing so much I asked Santa Claus to bring me "In the Beauty of the Lilies" for Christmas. However, without giving away too much of the book the ending spoiled it for me, it was unrealistic and just would not have happened to a radical Muslim. I think the author wanted to give the book a hopeful ending. To quote a section from "America Alone" by Mark Steyn, as written by Nazra Quraishi, kindergarten teacher:---------------------------------------"Islam is not only a religion, it is a complete way of life. Islam guides Muslims from birth to grave. The Quran and prophet Muhammad's words and practical application of Quran in life cannot be changed.Islam is a guide for humanity, for all times, until the day of judgment. It is forbidden in Islam to convert to any other religion. The penalty is death. There is no disagreement about it.Islam is being embraced by people of other faiths all the time. They should know they can embrace islam, but cannot get out. This rule is not made by Muslims, it is the supreme law of God.Please do not ask us Muslims to pick some rules and disregard other rules. Muslims are supposed to embrace Islam in its totality."---------------------------------Of course as there are many interpretations of The Bible there are also many interpretations of The Quran, but I think that the main theme of the religion is that this life is just a means to an end, that is why the radical Muslim suicide bombers go so eagerly to their deaths.

how it happens

by William D. Tompkins

Updike provides a day in the life of a guy who gets caught up in the process of becoming someone who becomes both enamored and disenchanted with the american way of life.

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