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Terrorist by John Updike
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Terrorist (original 2006; edition 2006)

by John Updike

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1,501418,454 (3.18)35
Ahmad, threatened by the hedonistic society around him, gets involved in a plot, with reverberations that rouse the Department of Homeland Security.
Member:ganderlibrary
Title:Terrorist
Authors:John Updike
Info:Knopf (2006), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 320 pages
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Terrorist by John Updike (2006)

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» See also 35 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
I just can't do it. I tried, honestly. I got to page ten. I'm moving on.

Updated to shelve in various suitable places I did not have available in 2010. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Updike fails to meet the challenge of telling a complex and contemporary story without resorting to stereotypes. He attempts to write about the radicalization of the lead character, Ahmad yet we only meet three Muslim characters - Ahmad, his imam Shaikh Rashid and his employer Charlie. This makes the story thin and hard to believe. I'm not sure how much research Updike did into the religions he draws upon - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. True, he does quote from the Qur'an, but the fact that any further discussion is limited to either Shaikh Rashid talking to Ahmad, or Ahmad's internal dialogue makes me wonder how much research Updike did - at the very least it seems a 'plain vanilla' discussion of Islam from a non-believer's point of view. Ahmad's school teacher (Jack Levy, a Jew) does mention the Torah, but only in passing and with no reference to its influence or impact on contemporary life (it would have been good to see a character from a Howard Jacobson novel wander into the story at some point).
The women in the novel are a puzzle - why Joryleen goes from a member of a church choir to being a prostitute is glossed over, and would have been an excellent story to weave around Ahmad's radicalization. But Updike sidesteps this issue because, I suspect, he can't really deal with effectively telling a woman's story.
Final gripe and spoiler alert - how does Levy work out where Ahmad is taking the truck? (I'm trying not to spoil the plot here). That bit of the novel annoyed me - it seemed incredible that Levy wouldn't call for some kind of back up if he'd worked it all out by himself....

So in short, a thriller that includes some skilled descriptions of the environment where the story is set, but with a lot of flaws. Best bit for me - the name of the high school bully - Tylenol Jones 'His mother, having delivered a ten-pond infant, saw the name in a television commercial for painkiller and like the sound of it.' (p15) ( )
  sachesney | Feb 17, 2018 |
I had a hard time putting this book down for the first fifty pages and then the last fifty pages--first in getting to know the characters and then in seeing how everything would play out--but I admit that much of the middle of the book was far easier for me to walk away from. I think part of this comes from the fact that the set-up almost tells you where the book will end, and it's just a question of discovering the details of resolution, more so even than how the characters will turn out. And I may, admittedly, have also wanted more from the characters... it felt like Updike was almost playing with stereotypes in order to make them more real, and overcome their stereotypes, but at the same time... at base, they were stereotypes. And with a plot that was, for the most part, predictable and easy to see coming, if sometimes a bit contrived, this was one of those books that I suppose I'm glad to have read, but it was also easier to digest in small doses, and I'm not entirely sure I'd recommend it except for in very specific cases. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Oct 27, 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 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Updikeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Updike, Johnmain authorall editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
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
angry?"

—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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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