Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Short Review: The Association of Small Bombs stands out in a wealth of fiction investigating conflict and terrorism. Jumping between multiple perspectives, it gives a rich, long range view of terrorism’s effects.
When three young Indian boys take a trip to the market in 1996, only one of them makes it back home. Bloody and nonsensical, Mansoor leaves the bodies of his two friends to walk home alone. The rest of the story changes perspectives over the next couple decades, giving voice to those in the aftermath of just another “small bomb,” the ones abroad that seem commonplace in Western media. Killing 5 or maybe 15 people at most, maybe these are the worst of all, both because of their frequency and because they force a small number “to carry the burden of the majority.” In these small blasts, that weighty burden is oftentimes forgotten and overlooked, leaving the families and survivors to rebuild their lives sans aid.
The Association of Small Bombs is unlike anything I’ve ever read, investigating the fears and motivations of all sides at the heart of a terrorist attack. Mahajan manages to show the embittered terrorists working to make a world in their vision, children who live with the physical and mental ramifications of being a survivor, and the parents who live every day with the knowledge that they were unable to shield their children from evil.
The first of those three is easily the most interesting of all– it wasn’t hard to imagine the grieving parents and fearful survivors, but understanding the terrorist mindset is much more difficult. Mahajan shows an almost frightening level of understanding of how terrorists justify their thinking. It’s unique, not simply the foreigner resenting Western values and using violence to illustrate such. The people in The Association of Small Bombs are ones who have read Gandhi and know of Martin Luther King Jr. A couple are ones who have already tried to protest peacefully, and haven’t been heard. Others are ruthless men who want to show violence in a world where only violence and sex receive substantive media coverage. One character justifies the actions of 9/11 by considering it urban planning, saying that infamous hijacker Mohammed Atta was putting his degree to use by removing “twin monstrosities” from the skyline.
If you haven’t already guessed, this isn’t an easy read. It’s challenging, but artfully done. There are long periods where justice isn’t served, or where it is clouded, forcing readers to squint to find it. There are points where vengeance takes over otherwise kind people. Marriages are ruined, children are murdered, and all the while, men talk about it casually as an evil necessary to create a better world.
I gave this book 3.5 stars because it’s really well done, adding a human element to things I’ve only studied academically. The constantly changing perspectives, while vital to the plot, are sprawling at times. I was confused by new additions of characters, or why Mahajan chose to give voice to a specific background character. Thankfully, it all comes together in the end, but there are moments where you just have to trust him. Give it a read if you’re interested in books that transport you to somewhere new, or if you think you can stomach getting deep into the mind of a terrorist.
There’s been a lot of talk about this book, so I’m interested in the opinion of people who have read it. Let me know in the comments if you’ve already read this, and if my review is on point– or if this is on your TBR list! Also looking for something similar, and y’all know I’m always here for recommendations!
Disclaimer: I was given this book in exchange for an honest review. I’d probably have picked it up anyway, though, because my curiosity was piqued by the title, cover, and hype.