Excerpt from The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Unknown Terrorist

A Novel

by Richard Flanagan

The Unknown Terrorist
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 336 pages
    Jan 2008, 336 pages

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The Unknown Terrorist

The idea that love is not enough is a particularly painful one. In the face of its truth, humanity has for centuries tried to discover in itself evidence that love is the greatest force on earth.

Jesus is an especially sad example of this unequal struggle. The innocent heart of Jesus could never have enough of human love. He demanded it, as Nietzsche observed, with hardness, with madness, and had to invent hell as punishment for those who withheld their love from him. In the end he created a god who was “wholly love” in order to excuse the hopelessness and failure of human love. Jesus, who wanted love to such an extent, was clearly a madman, and had no choice when confronted with the failure of love but to seek his own death. In his understanding that love was not enough, in his acceptance of the necessity of the sacrifice of his own life to enable the future of those around him, Jesus is history’s first, but not last, example of a suicide bomber.

Nietzsche wrote,“I am not a man, I am dynamite”. It was the image of a dreamer. Every day now somebody somewhere is dynamite.They are not an image.They are the walking dead, and so are the people who are standing round them. Reality was never made by realists, but by dreamers like Jesus and Nietzsche.

Nietzsche began to fear that what drove the world forward was all that was destructive and evil about it. In his writings he tried to reconcile himself to such a terrible world. But one day he saw a cart horse being beaten brutally by its driver. He rushed out and put his arms around the horse’s neck, and would not let go. Promptly diagnosed as mad, he was locked away in an asylum for the rest of his life. Nietzsche had even less explanation than Jesus for love and its various manifestations: empathy, kindness, hugging a horse’s neck to stop it being beaten. In the end Nietzsche’s philosophy could not even explain Nietzsche, a man who sacrificed his life for a horse.

But then, ideas always miss the point. Chopin could offer no explanation of his Nocturnes.Why the Doll was haunted by Chopin’s Nocturnes is one strand of this story. In listening to what Chopin could not explain, she heard an explanation of her own life. She could, of course, not know that it also foretold her own death.


T he doll was a pole dancer. She was twenty-six, though routinely claimed, as she had been claiming since she was seventeen, to be twenty-two. A small, dark woman, her fine-featured face and almond eyes were set off by woolly black hair.

“Her body, hey,” said Jodie, a fellow pole dancer to whom the body mattered and who, at nineteen,was already a Botox junkie, “it wasn’t like, you know, contemporary. You know what I mean?” And everyone listening knew exactly what Jodie’s lack of expression meant.

The young women who flooded in and out of the pole dancing clubs were of every body type, but their bodies, whatever their differences, shared the toning that only hour after hour of swaying and swinging can bring and a diet of amphetamines and alcohol can hone. They aspired to an ideal they had seen starring in a hundred DVDs and a thousand video clips, splashed across an inestimable number of women’s magazine articles and gliding through a million ads. Hard and angular, bones and muscles rippling and bumps and products glistening, it was the ideal of beautiful women as cadaverous children.

But the Doll’s body seemed to belong to some different, older idea of what women were. In contrast to the muscled butts and thighs of the other dancers in the club, the Doll’s body was more rounded, her arms and thighs and buttocks fuller, and her movements were somehow similarly rounded and full.

Excerpted from The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan © 2007 by Richard Flanagan. Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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