Summary and book reviews of Terrorist by John Updike

Terrorist

by John Updike

Terrorist
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2007, 320 pages

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Book Summary

Deserted by his father 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 New Jersey. Nobody 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.

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 an 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, God is the best.

I

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. Their bare bellies, adorned with shining navel studs and low-down purple tattoos, ask, What else is there to see? Boys strut and saunter along and look dead-eyed, indicating with their edgy killer gestures and careless scornful laughs that this world is all there is—a noisy varnished hall lined with metal lockers and having at its end a blank wall desecrated by graffiti and roller-painted over so often it feels to be coming closer by millimeters.

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. They are paid to say these things, by the city of New Prospect and the state of New Jersey. They lack true faith; they are not on the Straight Path; they are ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

John Updike’s controversial twenty-second novel has garnered reviews both positive and negative. All the prepublication reviews were generally positive, with starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist ("deserves the label of masterpiece"). Those that come down against the book generally don't do so because of the subject matter but because they feel that the voice of Ahmad lacks credibility.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (318 words).

Media Reviews

The New Republic - James Wood

John Updike should have run a thousand miles away from this subject--at least as soon as he saw the results on the page .... What is most striking about this novel is that, despite Updike's massive familiarity with the technical challenges of fiction-writing--this is his twenty-second novel, for goodness sake--he proves himself relatively inept at the essential task of free indirect style, of trying to find an authorial voice for his Muslim schoolboy.

The Boston Herald - Larry Katz

The fate of a famous New York landmark depends on the answer. To get it, you’ll have to spend many pages considering Koranic injunctions with Ahmad, whose frustratingly close-minded search for truth only confirms what we already suspect: There’s no fun in fundamentalism.

New York Times - Robert Stone

The last part of the novel is suspenseful. It brings together a serviceable plot, which leans a little heavily on coincidental connections, a questionable provocation and some broadly motivated acts of heroism. It seems meant as a fable, and any good fable requires some derring-do. The most satisfactory elements in "Terrorist" are those that remind us that no amount of special pleading can set us free of history, no matter how oblivious and unresponsive to it we may be. And that history, in disposing of empires, admits of no innocents and spares no one.

Booklist

Starred Review. [Terrorist] deserves also the label of masterpiece...timely and topical, poised and passionate, it is a high mark in Updike's career.

Kirkus

Updike.... continues to entice, provoke and astonish.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Updike has distilled all their flaws to a caustic, crystalline essence.... his contempt for them enhances rather than spoils the novel.

Library Journal

Updike's always beautiful prose and his ever-probing imagination trace what happens when worlds collide.

Reader Reviews

Bob H.

Never Read Updike Before
I have never read Updike before. If this is his style, I will not read him again. I am struggling for the past week. I am on page 128. I am thinking. "C'mon already!"

Amilina

This book is strange
We've read the book in our class. It took a long time until we finished and it was horrible. Nobody in my class likes the book anyway. I've never read a book like this and I would have stopped reading the book after the first pages, but because of ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

John Updike is the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, criticism and novels. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.


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are believed to be an ancient Arabian people who became rich through the production of frankincense and as a trading point for spices from India.  The Qur'an says that the prophet Hud was sent by Allah to the city of Ubar/Iram (famed for its tall ...

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