July/August Book Review

This month’s review is by Richard Bellikoff


By John Updike

If you’re freaking out about ISIS, this novel will give you no solace. But if you want to know what might drive someone to become a jihadi terrorist, this is the book for you.

Set in New Jersey, it tells the story of a young American Muslim whose alienation from the materialistic and hedonistic society he sees around him sets him on a dangerous path, from faith to fanatical spiritual certainty. This may seem very different from the novels about suburban angst and adultery that made Updike famous, but he also has a long history of ruminating on faith. Turning his attention from his own Protestantism to Islam, it’s clear that he has done his homework, immersing himself in the tenets of a religion that was unfamiliar to most Americans before 9/11.

Updike has created a complex and at times even sympathetic character who can’t be reduced to the simplistic good vs. evil stereotypes of cable TV news. He raises difficult questions and offers no easy answers, producing a challenging and unsettling novel.

So if you must, go hide under your bed until the War on Terrorism ends. But while you’re there, bring a flashlight and enlighten yourself with this book.


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