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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
Author

"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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  • 26% Love
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