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Terrorist(CD)(Unabr.) [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

John Updike
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 6 2006
The ever-surprising John Updike’s twenty-second novel is a brilliant contemporary fiction that will surely be counted as one of his most powerful. It tells of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and his devotion to Allah and the words of the Holy Qur’an, as expounded to him by a local mosque’s imam. The son of a bohemian Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who disappeared when he was three, Ahmad turned to Islam at the age of eleven. He feels his faith threatened by the materialistic, hedonistic society he sees around him in the slumping factory town of New Prospect, in northern New Jersey. Neither the world-weary, depressed guidance counselor at Central High School, Jack Levy, nor Ahmad’s mischievously seductive black classmate, Joryleen Grant, succeeds in diverting the boy from what his religion calls the Straight Path. When he finds employment in a furniture store owned by a family of recently immigrated Lebanese, the threads of a plot gather around him, with reverberations that rouse the Department of Homeland Security. But to quote the Qur’an: Of those who plot is God the best.

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From Publishers Weekly

Updike's latest offers up a probing post-9/11 history lesson on America—its mythology and street realities, religious attitudes, and the myriad nationalities that have borne this country fruit. Lane has his work cut out, and for the most part delivers. He contends with multiple foreign accents and American dialects, not to mention gospel singing and Arabic recitations of the Koran. The tale follows a righteous Muslim teenager named Ahmad, an (Irish-Arab) American born and bred in northern New Jersey, and his seemingly inevitable journey toward a domestic suicide attack. Ahmad's Irish mother, Jewish guidance counselor and Lebanese employer/handler are all rendered with distinction by Lane. But Ahmad's accent is odd and hard to trace, almost seeming to contain a Dixie influence. Lane voices an African-American schoolmate in similar style, creating the potential for confusion when the two interact. Phone calls, snippets of TV shows, speeches and sermons are treated with a through-a-speaker effect that is sometimes disconcerting. But it doesn't detract from a generally rich audio experience, one built on diverse narration and ethnically sprawling storytelling.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Updike is never static; over the course of his long career, he has not only mastered various literary forms but also tackled a wide variety of subjects as material for his fiction. His new novel, swift, sinewy, and stylish, represents another big leap. In the hands of a lesser writer, such a risky topic and premise easily could have come across as presumptuous. Ahmad, an 18-year-old high school student, is the son of an Irish American mother and an Egyptian father. He has taken up the Islamic faith of his father so completely that he is obsessed with distancing himself from the unclean infidel, which is how he views the New Jersey community in which he lives. The high-school guidance counselor, who attempts to steer young Ahmad in a direction he feels is more suitable and productive, is a compelling and oddly attractive supporting character, who, as it turns out, plays a vital role in a deadly plot into which Ahmad tumbles like the naive, easily manipulated adolescent he is. This marvelous novel can be accurately labeled as a 9/11 novel, but it deserves also the label of masterpiece for its carefully nuanced building up of the psychology of those who traffic in terrorism. Timely and topical, poised and passionate, it is a high mark in Updike's career. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CHILLING PORTRAIT OF AN OBSESSIVE MIND June 10 2006
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Devils, Ahmad thinks. These devils seek to take away my God. All day long, at Central High School, girls sway and sneer and expose their soft bodies and alluring hair......The teachers, weak Christians and nonobservant Jews, make a show of teaching virtue and righteous self-restraint, but their shifty eyes and hollow voices betray their lack of belief."

Those are the thoughts of 18-year-old Ahmad, a student at a New Jersey high school. He appears to be a bomb waiting to go off - the son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who took off when the boy was three, he is devoted to Islam and has found a surrogate father in the imam who gives him instruction. It's not only his classmates that Ahmad disdains but also his mother and the string of boyfriends she dangles.

Updike points a chilling portrait of a would be terrorist and also causes readers to wonder why no one had evidently seen the signs of this boy's mind set. In the author's description one of the reasons he's bent on destruction is that he can't think of anything else to do after high school. Little reason for killing people.

No notice is taken when Ahmad suddenly evidences an interest in learning how to operate large trucks nor has anyone noted that the boy has never had a friend - male or female. One wonders if he ever longed to be a part of the high school crowd or go out with one of the girls he denigrates It is as if he has developed in a vacuum with only his hatred of American materialism to keep him company.

Terrorist is an eerie dissection of an obsessive mind, a troubling story yet a necessary one as it relates to our world today. Plus, in the hands of the master John Updike it is rich in elegant prose and descriptive passages so substantive that it seems characters may leap from the page.

- Gail Cooke
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5.0 out of 5 stars Terrorist July 20 2006
By Coleman
Format:Hardcover
Terrorist masterfully depicts the life of a young man cuaght in a circle whose intrigues he never really understood but unfortunately committed himself to the futile path. In many wys he mirrors the character of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, or Gavin in Triple Agent Double Cross. A must read to have a better grasp of todays man of terror.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Author's misogny stole the show Sept. 5 2006
By Barjaxi
Format:Hardcover
Updike's writing is wonderful and the story here is relevant and timely, if perhaps a bit fanciful. However, the misogyny is truly distracting. I thought *perhaps* he was trying to make an underlying comment with it, but indeed his other writings reflect the misogyny as his own.

Too bad. It ruins what could otherwise be something worth talking about.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Work of Imagination That Doesn't Ring True Aug. 29 2006
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
After every attack on the United States, waves of paranoia have swept the nation. If we go back through these attacks since the American Revolution, we find a consistent history though that those who were born in the country that did the attacking but live in the U.S. are loyal to America. In part the paranoia builds because politicians and the media make hay from such fears. Eventually, everyone calms down and sees their fear is exaggerated.

As I read John Updike's book, I kept thinking that this was a book designed to explain what doesn't appear to be the case . . . a native-born American becoming a terrorist who follows Islamic beliefs to pursue Jihad. From the beginning, the premise didn’t ring true. And the story itself rang even less true.

If you can get past that point, you still have to deal with Mr. Updike trying to describe something that's very different from his own cultural experiences. Mr. Updike seems to have worked hard at it, but again his depictions of the characters don't ring true to me.

Here's the story in a nutshell. A young man, Ahmad Ashmaway Mulloy, decides to identify with his absent father's Egyptian heritage while being raised by his round-heeled Irish-American mother with whom he doesn't feel very connected or comfortable. The identity becomes centered on practicing Islam. At the local mosque, he's encouraged to stop his education after high school to become a truck driver. Depressed guidance counselor, Jack Levy, tries to dissuade Ahmad, but only succeeds in becoming his mother's lover. Ahmad is introduced to the Chehab family, whose furniture store needs a new driver. Pretty soon, he's being sounded out for his feelings about Jihad.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  172 reviews
88 of 97 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A qualified "thumbs up" July 10 2006
By B. McEwan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a tough call, but on the whole I am giving this novel 4 stars because it successfully held my attention, got me engaged in trying to understand the characters' motives and is beautifully written. Having said that, I want to acknowledge that many of the criticisms leveled here by other Amazon reviewers do have merit, primarily the charge that Updike's characters are often stereotypical. Of interest to me is that, while many reviewers complained about the stereotypes of fat wives, Arab-Americans and single mothers, I didn't notice any comments on the characters of African-American school girl Joryleen and her boyfriend, who is named "Tylenol," of all things. But in any case, since the stereotype issues have been well covered by other reviewers, I'm going to let that go and focus on what I see as the positives of this novel, and there really are quite a few.

For one thing, I like the fact that Updike chose this very difficult topic to write about and also made obvious efforts to understand aspects of Islamic-American culture that are doubtless utterly foreign to him. An author of his standing could just coast for the rest of his career, but this writer chose to stretch himself and try to get inside the mind of a character that represents a far more complex America than that of Rabbit, for example. This is an America that we had all better take a shot at understanding, since this is the one we are living in today, and will have to go on living in for some time to come. Believers in Islam are here and they are becoming an ever more important force in the polyglot US -- AND it is pretty clear that many of these folks are severely disaffected from the mainstream culture. *If* this alienation tends to encourage violent actions, then those of us who are of the so-called "majority" culture had better spend some time trying to understand why that is, and think about how we can help these new US residents succeed here. (That's a big IF, since it seems perfectly plausible to me that cultural alienation does not lead to "homegrown" terrorism at all. But for the purposes of this review, I am assuming that it could.)

Another positive of this novel is that it is beautifully written and highly evocative of place. The place happens to be a depressingly urbanized New Jersey, so it's easy to miss the power of Updike's descriptions, but consider this passage: "...the sky cloudless but for a puffy far scatter over Long Island, the ozone at the zenith so intense it seems a smooth-walled pit of blue fire, the accumulated towers of lower Manhattan a single gleaming mass, speedboats purring and sailboats tilting in the bay, the cries and conversation of the tourist crowd making a dapple of harmless sound around them. 'This beauty,' Ahmad thinks 'must mean something -- a hint from Allah, a foreshadow of Paradise.'

As for the criticism that Updike is anti-American and using the character of Ahmad to voice his own complaints, I counter by saying that it's important for us Americans to be more self-reflective than we may find comfortable, and that Updike is contributing something useful by raising important moral and ethical challenges to our behavior as a nation in the world. Take for example this line from pp. 198-9 of the novel: "[True adherents] believe that a billion followers of Islam need not have their eyes and ears and souls corrupted by the poisonous entertainments of Hollywood and a ruthless economic imperialism whose Christian-Jewish God is a decrepit idol, a mere mask concealing the despair of atheists."

Granted, that is powerful stuff and certainly discomfiting. But if one reads any of the world's press at all, it is pretty clear that this is the image that many people have of America, and the challenge Updike's characters are presenting in this novel seem to me to be worth considering. What sort of response shall we give to a comment like the above? How observant of our religious principles are the majority of us here in the US, and what about the economic fallout of our national trade and security policies? I am not saying that I agree with the assessments of the characters in this novel, nor do I necessarily think we should assume Updike does. But it is a view that we might at least consider if we hope to come to peaceable terms with the billions of Muslims who are solid citizens of this and the world's other nations, and who have no hostile intentions.

So, for me, the bottom line on Terrorist is that it's an important book that raises difficult questions that ought to be given some serious thought. We should be glad that Updike chose to write it.
58 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but doesn't quite live up to its promise July 4 2006
By Galen K. Valentine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Updike's, "Terrorist" is a timely novel. Newspapers and magazines are still full of the ebb and flow of terrorist and counter-terrorist operations. It is difficult for me, and by extension I think of American society in general, to understand why anyone would choose to become a suicide-bomber. Though they are only a fraction of the terrorists they are the most puzzling. So, I bought Updike's latest book on the strength of his reputation as a novelist and the reviews claiming his understanding of the radical mindset.

On the surface the story is about a teenager, Ahmed, who embraces an austere form of Islam. His mother, perhaps feeling guilty about his father's departure, leaves him to his own devices. An intervention is clearly necessary to save Ahmed from his Imam and Updike chooses Mr. Levy, a sixtyish guidance counselor at Ahmed's high school. The story's trajectory predictably puts Ahmed and Mr. Levy together in the truck carrying the bomb.

Scratch the surface though and you find...well, read on.

Ahmed is largely unforgiving, except, illogically, to the father who abandoned him. He is unapologetic, never needing to justify his beliefs to others or even to himself. His isolation and social awkwardness are not the product of his own attitudes, but of everyone else's. In almost every way, Ahmed acts like any teenager, if a bit more radical. And that is the problem. Remove the radical Islamic element from the novel and you have a story of a generic teenager. If Updike is saying that suicide-bombers are just like "ordinary" people, with the same problems and fears, I think he missed the boat. There clearly is a difference. If there weren't, then suicide-bombers would be far more prevalent. What I had hoped for was a deeper understanding of why an Islamist would choose to commit suicide in a manner that kills as many other people as possible. Failing that, I would have liked to understand why Ahmed as an individual would make such a choice; his social problems aren't enough since so many other children of broken families face the same issues without making such a gruesome decision. I got neither.

The story is structured to propel Ahmed, and by extension the reader, toward his violent final act - exit stage left. But we are robbed of even that. Surprise endings aren't bad. I like them. But only when they result in that, "Aha!" moment when all of the pieces fall together. This wasn't one of them. I felt blind-sided and left wondering just what the point of the book was.

It might seem that I hated the book. I didn't. There were moments when I felt that Updike had looked into the soul of America and understood it. The scenes devoted to Mr. Levy and his wife are masterful. I just felt that he hadn't delivered on the promise of the book.

Updike was, and still is, considered one of the premiere voices of American society. But, "Terrorist" showed me that he hasn't quite mastered the subtleties of another culture. In the final analysis, I'm not sure Updike understands suicide-bombers anymore than I do. He does put a more human face on them. And his writing is superb. In that respect, "Terrorist" is worth reading. But don't expect to gain a deeper insight into terrorism.
49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars guess I'm in the minority here June 15 2006
By E. M. Bristol - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
but I was a bit baffled by this book. For one thing, the writing was so uneven. There were beautiful, evocative descriptions of the New Jersey suburb, and then there was sexual metaphor that reminded me all too well why I avoid cheesy romance novels like the plague.

I know this sounds incredibly presumptuous, but it seemed to me like Updike made a mistake a lot of first time novelists make by not trusting his reader enough. I think anyone who picks up a book like this can be expected to remember which character is obese, which is Jewish, which wears black jeans and white shirts, and which has gorgeous green eyes without it having to be hammered home throughout the book. Quite a few writers out there do seem rather enamored with the color of their protagonists' skin and eyes and so forth, but I for one would prefer more time to be devoted to developing their thoughts, feelings, personalities and motives. Especially motives. If a basically non-violent young man who is not a complete sheep is going to decide to carry out a suicide mission, it needs to be clearer what's going on inside his head. Updike gives us various motives, but none seems strong enough for him to decide to take such a militant course of action.

As reviewers have mentioned the titular "terrorist" winds up being the most likeable character in the book, but he gets this by default. The other characters are inoffensive at best and repugnant at worst. True a character can be deeply flawed and likeable at the same time, but that did not really apply to any of the ones in this book. In fact, I consistently got the feeling that it wasn't really the protagonist who looked down on the Americans around him, it was Updike.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just a little disappointing July 4 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A long time ago, I read a criticism of John Updike that said something to the effect that he observes life by stepping out his front door and looking around for a while and then going back in and writing. This is why, when Updike ventures farther afield than his usual subject -- white, middle class, protestant, New Englanders and their relationships -- his voice often falters.

"Terrorist" joins other works like Brazil, S., and The Coup, where Updike attempts to go outside of his comfort zone and explore something a little different. The problem with "Terrorist" is that he is obviously uncomfortable.

First, there are too many different characters and plot lines in the book, almost as though Updike had planned to write a much longer book, or a book from a different point of view than the one he ultimately chose. The menagerie of personalities forces him to develop a contrived (not very believable) set of circumstances that bring all of the characters together for an ending that is less suspenseful, as some critics have indicated, than it is abrupt and tidy.

One character, Hermione, is an assistant to the director of the Department of Homeland Security. Her character isn't explored and exists solely for the convenience of the denouement.

The character of Ahmad, the main character and the most fleshed out, is complex. Updike teases the reader with insight into the conflicted psyche of this devout Muslim who was raised by a Catholic mother in the United States. But it is only a tease. Updike's conception of Muslim devotion tastes too intellectual, too textbook. It is a sympathetic conception, but still one that seems to be lacking.

That isn't to say there aren't redeeming qualities. The prose is classic Updike, flowery sometimes, dark sometimes, always introspective, and always trying to understand why people make bad decisions.

I've read others call "Terrorist" chilling, and I have to disagree. "Chilling" would describe the book I wish Updike had written, the one where, through a strong focus on Ahmad, we see an innocent devotion slowly and methodically corrupted by those who would wage war in the name of God. There is a hint of that here; those who corrupt Ahmad are obviously more about manipulation than about devotion. Unfortunately, the manipulation happens so quickly as to be superficial.

This is not Updike at his best, but it isn't his worst either. I just wish his editor had told him to take six more months to tighten things up.
40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not very accurate July 7 2006
By Lipplog - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Unlike the book, there's a reason why none of the Terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were carried out by American Muslims. BECAUSE THEY'RE AMERICAN. In Updike's book all the reasons main character gives for hating America (fast food, fast life style, materialism, etc.) are superficial and have nothing to do with the ACTUAL complaints the Muslim world has against us. If anything, these are the complaints Mr. Updike has against the culture. So if you want an ACCURATE portrayal of the mind of a Terrorist, read Anthony Shadid's "Night Draws Near" and Marc Sageman's "Understanding Terrorist Networks".
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