The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014
Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology
The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious
: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain
April 14, 2014
Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time
: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic
: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships
: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin
: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate
: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
April 11, 2014
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden
: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does
: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer
: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You
April 9, 2014
Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?
Samuel G. Freedman
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
April 8, 2014
Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease
Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear
April 4, 2014
A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children
Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet
Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds
Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves
April 2, 2014
Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?
Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities
It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene
Jewish World Review
Oct. 9, 2006
/ 17 Tishrei 5767
Famed novelist leaves his suburban turf to inhabit mind of terrorist
By Geeta Sharma Jensen
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT)
In John Updike's latest novel, his protagonist, Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy, the 18-year-old ardently Muslim son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father, observes his high school teachers and thinks:
"The teachers, weak Christians and non-observant Jews, make a show of teaching virtue and righteous self-restraint, but their shifty eyes and hollow voices betray their lack of belief. They are paid to say these things, by the city of New Prospect and the state of New Jersey. They lack true faith; they are not on the Straight Path; they are unclean."
Ahmad also thinks his classmates, especially the girls who "sway and sneer and expose their soft bodies and alluring hair," are devils who "seek to take away my G-d." He further believes that his mother is loose and unclean. And, from grade school on, he seeks to replace the father who has abandoned them with a Sudanese imam at a mosque in New Prospect.
Updike, among the dons of the suburban American novel, is in strange new territory with Ahmad in "Terrorist," his 22nd novel and one that he acknowledges is "more headline-influenced than my other books are." Not only is Ahmad a teenager of mixed race, but he also is a suicide-bomber-in-the-making, an oddball if passionate kid who rejects the materialistic, free-wheeling, pop-cultured and sexually liberated mores of America his native land and only home even as he struggles with his natural instincts.
You almost cannot suspend disbelief here in part because your knowledge of Updike gets in the way.
Updike's 74 now, an Episcopalian, living outside Boston with his second wife, whom he married in 1977, a father of four grown children, and still lionized for his signature novels, which explored white male angst and thought in the post-World-War-II decades. Some of his characters are alter egos.
Though he is among the more prolific of American authors and his oeuvre includes short stories, essays, poems and novels on witch lore and an African dictator, he is remembered for his fiction about Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a Swedish-American whose life Updike chronicles from his athletic and other conquests of his youth to his feeble last years in the late 1980s. The four "Rabbit" novels, published between 1960 and 1990, remain relevant jewels of precision and prose.
And now here he is, trying to enter the mind of a teenage fundamentalist and wannabe martyr. How?
Updike is smiling in his gentle, unoffended way even before the question is asked fully.
"I'm always trying to break out of the white suburbs," he says, eyes alight beneath his bushy white eyebrows. "I feel good when I'm doing it. You don't need an awful lot of reality for this. I get carried along with my fancies. ... One of the things art should do is be playful and be untimid. ... You should treat it as a privilege and not be afraid to extend yourself."
|BUY THE BOOK|
Click HERE to purchase it at a discount. (Sales help fund JWR.).
The freedom of a fiction writer to go where his imagination takes him is among a broad range of topics Updike discusses agreeably on an overcast afternoon in Washington. Carefully dressed in slacks, a jacket and tie, he half lounges, half perches on one end of a couch in the lobby of a five-star hotel downtown. The place is noisy: Music plays, people walk by. Updike is not distracted. He is unfailingly courteous, generous with his smiles and conversation, reflective about his work never mind that he has been talking and meeting with people all day during BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual convention.
"The fact that I saw the skyscraper fall (on Sept. 11) I had purchase," he explains. "I think it's important to understand these people, and this (my book) is my attempt to understand a homegrown terrorist, to explain it to the American public."
Updike saw the World Trade Center towers burning from a rooftop in Brooklyn while visiting relatives. In a piece in The New Yorker, he described the collapse of the south tower in chilling detail, remembering it "fell straight down like an elevator, with a tinkling shiver and a groan of concussion distinct across the mile of air." He and his wife knew, he said, that they "had just witnessed thousands of deaths."
In the next few months, like the rest of the country, Updike followed everything that had to do with the terrorist attacks. He remembers reading a news story about a Brooklyn imam who was counseling a couple; it made him realize that being a good Muslim in America was challenged "by all sorts of distractions you didn't have in the village" of a home country.
What struck him, too, he says, alluding to suicide bombers, was "this fascinating potential for violence in young men who seem to have everything to live for."
His preoccupation with such issues led him to imagine a young Muslim protagonist instead of the Catholic priest he thought was going to be the focus of his next novel. Updike then revisited the Quran, which he had first studied when working on his 1978 novel, "The Coup," a post-colonial satire narrated by the exiled president of an invented African nation called Kush.
Despite his study of Islam and time spent imagining Ahmad, Updike acknowledges that he is closer to Jack Levy, the 63-year-old, disillusioned Jewish guidance counselor who takes an interest in Ahmad right from the first chapter. Levy is someone Updike understands, someone he's been writing about for years.
But, he says, Ahmad, too, is a character he can understand.
"Ahmad has a special life, a life that doesn't have to do with being a teenager," Updike explains, noting that the youth's passion is Quranic studies. "(He has) a private self with hopes and aspirations." He could identify with that, he says.
"I was enough of an oddball that I could identify with Ahmad," Updike offers.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washinton and the media consider must reading. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services