The Association of Small Bombs is an expansive and deeply humane novel that is at once groundbreaking in empathy, dazzling in acuity, and ambitious in scope.
When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family's television at a repair shop with their friend, Mansoor Ahmed, one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb - one of the many "small" bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world - detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys, to the devastation of their parents. Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb.
After a brief stint at a university in America, Mansoor returns to Delhi, where his life becomes entangled with the mysterious and charismatic Ayub, a fearless young activist whose own allegiances and beliefs are more malleable than Mansoor could imagine. Woven into the story of the Khuranas and the Ahmeds is the gripping tale of Shockie, a Kashmiri bomb maker who has forsaken his own life for the independence of his homeland.
Karan Mahajan writes brilliantly about the effects of terrorism on victims and perpetrators, proving himself to be one of the most provocative and dynamic novelists of his generation.
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A tragedy of manners
He is an excellent reader, just the right amount of personalization of the various characters, and flawless pronunciation.
For about the first half of the book it was a kind of comedy of manners for terrorists and their victims, with a lot about the foibles of the all-too-human characters. The book becomes, I would say, progressively dark as the ramifications of destructiveness are played out: parent who, having lost their children, cannot find their way back to life. Young men who experience oppression as Muslims in India, as well as other losses, who lose their way and then their lives. Others who are ruined by the brutal and capricious state. The author explores all this with great sensitivity to his characters. The author is also a fine writer, with many interesting metaphors (which I wish I had written down), but who also maintains a good pace in his story.
Things do decidedly not come right in the end, but the book is not a complete downer either. In addition to the humor of human frailty, there is the author's compassion that keeps the lights on throughout.
Amazing novel, exceptionally performed
- Matt Kaul