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Terrorist by John Updike

Terrorist (2006)

by John Updike, John Updike

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This was my first Updike book -- I know, I know -- and it was clear he did his research about Arab culture and the Quran. I honestly thought the boy would do it in the end and I was a bit discouraged that his teachers could talk him out of it so easily. ( )
  DBrigandi | Jul 3, 2017 |
This was my first Updike book -- I know, I know -- and it was clear he did his research about Arab culture and the Quran. I honestly thought the boy would do it in the end and I was a bit discouraged that his teachers could talk him out of it so easily. ( )
  DBrigandi | Jul 3, 2017 |
I hate to give a poor rating to a John Updike novel, as I generally love his stuff, but this one just didn't grab me. It tells the story of an 18 year old high school senior who is a devout Muslim in a hardscrabble New Jersey town. I have found Updike great at getting inside the heads of his protagonists, in brilliant and fascinating ways- but I don't think he does so here. Usually his subjects are people like him, but getting in the head of a young, half-Egyptian, half-Irish boy growing up in the 21st century is beyond him- I don't find the internal dialogues convincing.

I've decided to give up on the rest of the novel- I got 100 pages in (of 300). Life's too short. ( )
  DanTarlin | Jul 4, 2015 |
Terrorist is the story of a disaffected 18 year old Arab-American who slowly and inexorably gets caught up in a terror plot. While a fascinating portrait of alienation and a sharp social critique, there are some jarring elements to the novel that brought one out of the story and diminished what was otherwise a very good, suspenseful tale and a timely exploration of disaffection and the search for belonging. ( )
1 vote katiekrug | Nov 29, 2014 |
TERRORIST (2006) is the first Updike novel I have read in several years, and it was his last. (He died in January 2009.) It is a book quite unlike his previous novels in that it could easily be classified a "suspense-thriller," not a label I would ever have assigned to an Updike novel before. But here it is, an absolute page-turner, with the usual Updike eloquence and meticulous attention to the smallest of details. Updike also seems to have abandoned his usual Pennsylvania and New England settings and stepped over into Philip Roth country, setting his story in northern New Jersey and creating a memorable protagonist/anti-hero in sixty-ish high school counselor Jack Levy, a disillusioned secular Jew. But make no mistake, the result is still pure Updike, particularly in its depictions of sexual situations.

Ahmad, the product of an Irish-American mother and an absent Egyptian father, is a youthful protagonist you will not soon forget. His self-chosen and atypical 'uniform' of starched white shirt and black jeans is perhaps representative of his black-and-white view of right and wrong and the glaring disparity between his islamic "straight path" and the godless ways of the infidels that surround him. Fatherless, brotherless, and all but motherless, Ahmad has been instructed in the Koran from the age of eleven by a shady imam in a shabby store-front mosque. Ripe for the picking, he is recruited as a soldier in the jihad. And here's the thing: Updike has constructed a precise narrative that seeks to explain and understand exactly how a jihadist - a terrorist - is born. And he succeeds admirably, because Ahmad is certainly not a monster. He is a flesh-and-blood young man who simply wants to do what is right and good. As opposed to all the evil, greed, and vice he sees all around him. He is coached by his closest mentor, Charlie Chehab, in how the "jihad and the [American] Revolution waged the same kind of war ... the desperate and vicious war of the underdog ..." and "One revolution led to another ... Revolution never stops."

Updike peppers his narrative with quotes from the Koran, in its original Arabic, with English explanations, as supplied by Ahmad's imam and as Ahmad himself interprets them. Ahmad learns of the Prophet Mohammed astride a white horse, and Ahmad's own vehicle of vengeance is a white truck carrying a deadly payload.

But enough. Filled with suspense, filled with trademark John Updike craftsmanship. A new and odd combination, but it works perfectly. Be prepared to read late into the night, because TERRORIST will keep you up, turning those pages, wondering ... This may have been Updike's last novel, but it shows him at the peak of his writing powers. I miss him. Very highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 27, 2014 |
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Terrorist is a more successful post-September 11 literary novel than Dead Air, Saturday, The Good Life or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Perhaps more significantly, it is the best late novel from this American master, opening up a whole new intellectual territory for Updike to explore.
If there's anything harder to read than a pulp novelist trying to write a serious book miles above his pay grade, it is a high-brow novelist trying to write below his pay grade.
Unfortunately, the would-be terrorist in this novel turns out to be a completely unbelievable individual: more robot than human being and such a cliché that the reader cannot help suspecting that Mr. Updike found the idea of such a person so incomprehensible that he at some point abandoned any earnest attempt to depict his inner life and settled instead for giving us a static, one-dimensional stereotype.

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Updike, Johnmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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And now, O Lord, please take my life from me,
for it is better for me to die than to live.
And the Lord said, "Is it right for you to be

—Jonah 4:3-4
Disbelief is more resistant than faith because it is sustained by the senses.

—Gabriel García Márquez,
Of Love and Other Demons
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Devils, Ahmad thinks.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345493915, Paperback)

The terrorist of John Updike’s title is eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, the son of an Irish American mother and an Egyptian father who disappeared when he was three. Devoted to Allah and to the Qur’an as expounded by the imam of his neighborhood mosque, Ahmad feels his faith threatened by the materialistic, hedonistic society he sees around him in the slumping New Jersey factory town of New Prospect. Neither Jack Levy, his life-weary guidance counselor at Central High, nor Joryleen Grant, his seductive black classmate, succeeds in diverting Ahmad from what the Qur’an calls the Straight Path. Now driving a truck for a local Lebanese furniture store—a job arranged through his imam—Ahmad thinks he has discovered God’s purpose for him. But to quote the Qur’an: Of those who plot, God is the best.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:32 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Eighteen-year-old Ahmad, the son of an Irish-American mother and long-gone Egyptian father, is contemptuous of the self-indulgent society surrounding him, and devoted to the teachings of Islam, becomes drawn into an insidious terrorist plot.

» see all 5 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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