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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘John Updike

Updike’s Terrorist

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John Updike, upon whom I would bestow grand titles such as, possibly, Greatest Living Writer in English (now that Bellow is dead), has written a topical novel called ‘Terrorist.’ The terrorist of the title is eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Molloy, the confused and bitter American son of an Irish-American mother and absent Egyptian father.

Ahmad starts the novel as a schoolboy, and then is guided by a malign imam to give up his studies to become a truck driver (ignoring the more wholesome advice of guidance counsellor Jack Levy, a worldly, unbelieving Jew). Before long Ahmad drives his truck into a terrorist plot.

Updike, in his usual present tense, observes acutely and describes intensely. His beautifully rhythmed prose balances psychological analysis and social comment, the internal and the external. His digressions are eloquent and well-placed. Updike criticises in passing the black and white solutions of fundamentalist Christianity and the Black Muslims as well as al-Qa’ida style Islam, and diagnoses as the cause of these fundamentalisms the loss of direction and hollowness of a hedonist, consumerist society. Although Updike doesn’t speak directly. We find his position in the midpoint between his ironising distance from and sympathy for the perspectives of the characters through whom the narrative is focalised. His easy shifts between these perspectives is done professionally. There is a professional’s handling of detail too. For instance, Ahmad feels his beloved Excellency truck is a part of him, and responds badly to the ugly truck he will drive on the day of the ‘operation.’ It looks, like him, dispensable.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 25, 2006 at 7:52 am

Posted in book review, Islamophobia

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