PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK TRAIL
The Association of Small Bombs (2016), by Karan Mahajan, is a thought-provoking novel set in New Delhi, India that explores the aftermath of a terrorist bomb in the lives of everyone involved—including the terrorists. The story begins innocuously in 1996 with two Hindu boys, and their Muslim friend, as they travel to a local outdoor market on an errand for the boys’ parents. Soon after their arrival, a homemade bomb explodes, taking the lives of the two Hindu boys and seriously injuring their friend. What unfolds is a thorough examination of the intricate connections between the survivors as they cope with this tragedy. The novel keeps the reader with the survivors (and the terrorists) long after the television cameras have departed for the next big story.
I became aware of this novel while reviewing the internet for my next book. It kept appearing on best-seller lists, with outstanding reviews. Once I began reading, I soon concurred with the many reviewers who were impressed by the treasures found within the prose. The writer excels at weaving words together to create a tapestry of thoughts that inhabits the minds of all the characters. For instance, the parents of the boys fear that the boys will “ruin themselves with what-ifs.” The Islamist terrorist becomes convinced that his violent act meant nothing to the hierarchy within his organization. Mansoor, the surviving friend, must accept that the injuries he sustained were caused by fellow Muslims, whose ideas have been radicalized by the words of their leaders. In the ensuing years, Mansoor navigates a world of Islamic fundamentalism and the fears of non-Muslims who see Mansoor as a representative of that culture. The irony, of course, is that Mansoor is just as much affected by the radical terrorists’ hateful violence as the other victims.
The unusual title is based on the name of the self-help group created by the boys’ parents, as they work to help later victims of terrorism in India. As the parents become activists, they must accept that, for all their ensuing assistance to later survivors, their boys will never come back. And, after 9/11, they must also accept that many believe the 1996 New Delhi bombing was a “bomb of small consequences.” The percussive effect of even a “small bomb” on their lives will remain with them forever.
In abstract, The Association of Small Bombs is a well-written foray into aspects of terrorism that are rarely addressed in the mainstream media. A bomb’s aftermath, in all its unsettling resonance, is superbly analyzed in rich prose by this novelist. If you have ever thought about what happens when the reporters leave a scene of destruction, this novel is for you.
ABOUT JONATHAN WALKER
Jonathan Walker is a Judge of Compensation Claims in the Panama City District, Division of Administrative Hearings. An avid reader, he always has a book “on-deck,” so no time is lost between novels. He enjoys almost every genre of book, as long as each book is well-reviewed. And he remains committed to paper as the medium in which his books are consumed, although a book light is required more often than not. Originally from Pensacola, he and his wife Tanya recently relocated to Panama City with their children, Olivia and Landon.