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American Taliban: A Novel [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Pearl Abraham

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Book Description

April 13 2010
An avid, near-six-foot-tall surfer, John Jude Parish cuts a striking figure on the beaches of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. When he isn’t on water, John lives on wheels, a self-described skate rat—grinding and kickflipping with his friends, and encouraged by his progressive parents. His hero is the great explorer Richard Burton, his personal prophet is Bob Dylan, and his world is wide open—to new ideas, philosophies, and religions.

Through online forums and chat rooms, John meets a young woman from Brooklyn who spurs his interest in Islam and Arab literature. Deferring Brown University for a year, he moves to the idyllic New York borough to study Arabic. Like Burton, John embraces the experience heart, body, and soul—submitting to Islam, practicing the salaat, fasting and meditating, dancing with dervishes, and encountering the extraordinary. Burton lived the life of a nineteenth-century adventurer, but he also penetrated the ancient wisdom of secret worlds. John will too—with unforeseen consequences.
Critically acclaimed novelist Pearl Abraham uses her gifts of psychological acuity and uncommon empathy to depict a typical upper-middle-class family snared by the forces of history, politics, and faith. In American Taliban, she imagines this young surfer/skater on a distinctly American spiritual journey that begins with Transcendentalism and countercultural impulses, enters into world mysticism, and finds its destination in Islam.
 
Provocative, unsettling, and written in a brilliantly inventive, refreshingly original voice, American Taliban is poised to become one of the most talked-about novels of the year.

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Review

"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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incisive, Powerful, Timely June 11 2010
By John Hughes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Pearl Abraham's powerful novel "American Taliban" is the story of John Jude Parish, turned 19 years old during the course of the book, a scion of privilege, and sole offspring of well-educated, liberal, east coast parents Bill and Barbara Parish. In a story inspired by the real life drama of John Walker Lindh, John Jude, named after Barbara's favorite Beatle and a Beatle song, embraces Islam and takes that to the limit. He winds up with the Taliban in the wilds of Afghanistan.
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What Happened to John Jude Parish? Feb. 28 2011
By E. Lee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Is it just me? Or is anyone else wondering what happened to John? The book was riveting right up until the last page, I will give it that. The story of John was plausible, and I read with baited breath to discover where his amazing journey took him. Having said that, it seems to me that Ms. Abraham forgot to add the last chapter. The chapter that would tell what ever became of John. The telling of his journey ended abruptly, too abruptly for me to feel even slightly satisfied. I feel cheated. I invested my time and energy into John, and then poof! He was nowhere to be found. Big. Fat. Disappointment.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars American Taliban May 6 2010
By Odinn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Pearl is a good story teller and she accurately captures how an 18-year-old's intuition does not match up to his belief that he's indestructible. What I like most about this book is the simple truth that our decisions take us on paths we may never expect to travel and that there can be consequences that are beyond our present-day understanding.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strong story that examines belief May 2 2010
By W. D. Temple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Pearl Abraham has done something interesting with the notion of how a smart, young American could find himself in the thrall of enemy combat camps. She's made her story one of belief and of the strong parallels that lie at the foundation of disparate spiritual views.

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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A visionary writer May 2 2010
By Jessica Lee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The young impassioned seeker is one of Pearl Abraham's quintessential subjects, and in John Jude she has created an extraordinary hero uniquely of our time. Previous readers of her work will recognize Abraham's intimate, fiercely intelligent style which carries this tale as a wave carries a surfer, with an intensity that is almost surreal.
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