American Taliban: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 13 2010
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"When I glanced at the title, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I had no clue. American Taliban is so much more than just the story of an American kid who ends up joining the Taliban, and John Jude is a superb literary creation: the smart, generous, open minded teenager that every parent would be proud to raise. I found myself caring deeply for this eighteen-year-old, and thinking about him long after I’d closed the pages of this novel. Well-written to the point where you can’t put the damn thing down, American Taliban is empathetic, enlightening, and frightening all at once, a story that not only opens your eyes, but gives you ideas to learn from, viewpoints to argue with. It is a rare delight to be given a novel that actually makes you think. Rarer still to have a book utterly rip open your heart. American Taliban is that rarest of accomplishments, one that does both at the same time."—Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children
"In her new novel Pearl Abraham offers a wonderfully intimate portrait of how a more or less ordinary American boy might be seduced by the idea of submitting to Islam. The stages of John's journey, and the many Muslims he meets along the way, are evoked in such vivid and persuasive detail that I felt I too was learning about the ancient wisdom of this complex culture. American Taliban is a fascinating and important novel."—Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street
"Riveting and revealing, Pearl Abraham's bottomless imagination has created an intellectual page-turner for our brave new world."—Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan
“The author has taken a complex and volatile subject and brought it to a human scale, without compromising or trivializing the global importance of the issues raised. An incredible achievement; highly recommended.”—Library Journal
About the Author
Pearl Abraham is the author of The Seventh Beggar, Giving Up America, and The Romance Reader, and the editor of an anthology about Jewish heroines in literature, Een sterke vrouw, wie zal haar vinden?. Her stories and essays have appeared in newspapers, literary quarterlies and anthologies. Abraham teaches literature and creative writing at Western New England College and lives in both Springfield, MA, and New York City.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Abraham deals with major concerns of consciousness, spirituality, and world views in this incisely written tale. John embodies post-modern mentality at the story's beginning, as he loves his Dylan, his Emerson, and his Tao Te Ching, while also talking Muslim spirituality with strangers in a chat room. He loves to surf off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where he and his pals Katie, Sylvie and Jilly explore the razor's edge of extreme sports with existential aplomb. With his post-modern openness to the truths of all wisdom traditions, he begins to plumb the depths of Islam, and to study classical Arabic, moving to Brooklyn to do so after a broken leg cuts his surfing summer short. His parents support this move, not troubled by the fact that, in his openness, John is beginning to embrace a traditional worldview--a gorgeous, intricate, deeply moving and transcendent sectarian perspective. Sectarian perspective, as in, not open, and propounding the belief that theirs is vastly superior to other faiths.
John, with his romantic, 19th century notion of travelling faraway lands in quest of self-transcendance, leaves his dual love interests in America, and heads off for a summer of study in Pakistan. He is taking his spiritual quest more and more seriously, with a seed of fanaticism expressed in the idea that submission leads to freedom. He is onto something profound, the discovery of the highest self through prayer. He is an ardent student of the Qu'ran and Muslim poetry. He begins to explore his newfound bisexuality. A sensitive reader becomes nervous when an esteemed orator addresses John's Pakistani school with praise for the superior intelligence of the Qu'ran, vis a vis the Bible.
A tragedy occurs back in the States. John is distraught, and it is suggested that he recuperate by taking some rest and relaxation in a camp away from the school, in the hills. This camp is military in focus, and John's break morphs into boot camp.
Abraham does a stellar job of slowly, almost imperceptibly, allowing her character to drift into bad decisions, in the realm of relative, political, truth, while pursuing his absolute ideals. September 11, 2001 occurs while John is on the move with the young men who are the Taliban. Beneath the veil of a largely unknown geopolitical history, and the ugly legacy of Western malfeasance, in the language of religious fanaticism, the Taliban persuade John to take up arms against his own country. John is so caught up in the beauty of the mystical pursuit, and the idea of salvation through annihilation, that he fails to distinguish between profundity and propaganda. His quest for high consciousness is an extreme sport of the most exalted order, but is contaminated by naivete. He's 19 years old, and his new comrades are similarly aged. They enjoy the freedom of having conquered the fear of death. They take up arms and march into a firestorm.
"American Taliban" had me weeping in the final pages. Barbara Parish, John's "force of nature" mother, a Freudian analyst by profession, goes through a cauldron of emotion, and to read about her doing so is harrowing. But, in the denouement, Abraham breaks through to an electrifying level of writing, intoning "There is only becoming. Being doesn't exist" as Barbara's brutally-wrought epiphany, uncovered as she finds a spiritual connection with her son. It's the reader's epiphany, too.
Her soul surfer John Jude wants to give himself over to something more, something greater. Abraham introduces the reader to this idea early when John Jude finds himself under the waves and in no hurry to surface while he takes in the whole of the experience. He finds ideas that touch upon this in Sufism and pursues his growing interest in Islam with that all-encompassing verve of an 18-year-old, all along idolizing the great English explorer Richard Burton. What he does the farther he goes is believable, frustrating, endearing and frightening, just like a teenager can be. Just like parents hope they won't be.
Abraham has written a book that is both a good story and challenging, insightful read.