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All booksLiterary fictionThe Association of Small Bombs
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
Literary fiction

The Association of Small Bombs

by Karan Mahajan

Quick take

A novel that takes us all the way around the bombing, a story about the lives of the victims, the survivors and the bomber. A novel about India that is a novel about the world.

Why I love it

Alexander Chee

"A good bombing begins everywhere at once." An explosion usually brings with it the urge to run away - to cover and hide - but the second sentence in Karan Mahajan's novel leads us deeper into the devastation instead. Two young sons are killed in a bombing while picking up a television at a Delhi market; their parents struggle with the knowledge that their children died on such a trivial errand. That horrifying balance - the trivial and the tragic - is the source of much of the novel's power.

The bomber is a Kashmiri terrorist disappointed by the results - he wanted a much bigger explosion - and by the time we meet him, we understand we are in a novel that takes us all the way around the bombing, a story about the lives of the victims, the survivors and the bomber. The resulting novel revealed something new to me about how we all live now in an age where the risk of terrorism is a reality of life for billions of people worldwide. A novel about India that is a novel about the world.

By including the terrorists as characters Mahajan insists on their humanity - a humanity they deny in themselves and their victims both - and holds them accountable for their crimes.

"How am I supposed to respond to this thing that has happened to me?" the boys' father asks himself in the days following the bombing. I think this is the question we are all asking: how to live in the face of the knowledge that at any moment we could die or lose those we love to an act of terror? Mahajan has set a heartbreakingly true and daring novel along that powerful topic, one that I think you'll find necessary - a novel that can truly help us understand ourselves, and others, in the dangerous world in which we live.

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Member thoughts

All (386)
All (386)
Love (106)
Like (212)
Dislike (68)
409 ratings
  • 26% Love
  • 52% Like
  • 17% Dislike
  • Houston , TX

    beautifully written & executed. my family is originally from India, so despite being born in the US it was nice to see bits of a culture I appreciate btwn the pages of a book. HIGHLY recommend to all.

  • St Paul, MN

    It took a while for me to get into but once I was there, it was a great slice of like from all perspectives of those involved. And was interesting to see how the incident continued to effect them.

  • Omaha, NE

    By melding together the stories of victims, survivors and their families, Mahajan has created an intricate narrative showing the deep seated emotions that plague those who survive a terrible event.

  • Myrtle Beach, SC

    excellent book so much so that I hope it becomes a required read on high school reading lists; what an exposure to a perspective and its consequences few Americans have a frame of reference for.

  • Oak Park , IL

    This book about the after effects of a small bomb that kills 2 boys is personal, political, global, local all at once. IThe author really illustrated how someone's beliefs can change over time.

  • New York, NY

    This was not what I expected. The story of multiple characters' experience in relation to terror is examined with such care and compassion it left me incredibly moved and absolutely stunned.

  • Brooklyn, NY

    In a country where bombings are commonplace - what do we know of the victims, the perpetrators and the locations affected? This novel explores what ties us together and then rips us apart.

  • Patchogue , NY

    Great book and so well written. Makes you really think on how all the little things we do affect the world around us, and makes you think of your connections with people and the world.

  • Blacksburg, VA

    This book was an excellent look at the aftermath for survivors of violent events. One afternoon completely changes the course of their lives forever. A very thought provoking book.

  • Oakland, CA

    Highly compelling, we need to put ourselves into these shoes if we want to understand the world outside the U.S. This is an important read for a scary political climate.

  • Los Angeles, CA

    I went back and forth between like and love. Was a bit hard to get into but then it all fell together and I wanted answers to all my questions. A fascinating read.

  • Independence, MO

    A beautifully tragic story about one incident that impacts countless lives in radically different ways. It's a stunning reminder of our inherent connectedness.


    This book was equal parts devastating and amazing. Extremely compelling story, and I loved diving into the details of the lives effected by one event.

  • San Diego, CA

    Really interesting take on terrorism - starting with a sudden bombing and following the lives of those affected. Unpredictable and moving.

  • Georgetown, MA

    Heartbreaking, honest and gut wrenching. Thought-provoking and so timely. The proliferation of hate and agony knows no border.

  • Kansas City, MO

    This novel shows how far-reaching small acts of terror can be and how regular people can be pulled into a web of evil actions.

  • Las Vegas, NV

    I was impressed with how this novel handled serious topics. The writing was beautiful and thought-provoking.

  • Orem, UT

    I spent a lot of time crying while reading this. It was heartbreaking and all too real.

  • Seattle, WA

    So good; so important—fantastic character development and story arc.

  • Beverly Hills , FL

    Beautifully written- visually!! The ending though!!!

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