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Terrorist by John Updike - Book Review

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User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


Terrorist by John Updike

Terrorist - Courtesy Knopf

The Bottom Line

Terrorist by John Updike is a timely piece of contemporary literature that is well-written and dense with observation and description. Updike takes readers into the mind of a terrorist and helps us understand the possible motivation and mindset of those involved in terrorism. Terrorist is an important piece of social literature, but it is not light or easy reading. It is slow at points and requires concentration to read.
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  • John Updike employs rich, descriptive writing
  • Terrorist provides insight into what Islamic fundamentalists may think
  • Updike's characters are full and complex
  • Terrorist will force you to grapple with big questions


  • Terrorist is slow and descriptive - not a lot of action
  • You have to concentrate a lot while reading - not relaxing
  • Lots of cynical or sad characters set a somber tone


  • Terrorist is about a teenager in NJ who is a devout Muslim and is recruited to be a terrorist.
  • Terrorist gives a portrait of how Islamic fundamentalists may view American morality.
  • Detailed descriptions demand a closer look at society - church, family, death & meaning
  • Updike develops characters well, but action is slow in Terrorist.

Guide Review - Terrorist by John Updike - Book Review

Terrorist by John Updike is about Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, an 18-year-old boy in Northern New Jersey who is devoted to Islam. Ahmad was raised by an Irish-American mother after his Egyptian father disappeared when he was three. Ahmad converts to Islam at age 11 and is instructed in the Qur'an by a local imam.

Ahmad is a sympathetic character. Updike lets readers into his head, forcing us to view American materialism and morality from his viewpoint. Updike also draws us into other characters' lives--Ahmad's mother, a high school guidance counselor, an African-American teenage girl, a worker in the Department of Homeland Security. It was striking to me how lost many of the characters were. In many ways, Ahmad was one of the most thoughtful and moral characters in the story. That is a disturbing realization when you consider that he is being groomed to be a terrorist.

Indeed, just as the protagonist is a thoughtful young terrorist, the novel Terrorist is a thought-provoking book. It is clear that Updike has thought a lot about American society, the inner city and modern morality. His descriptions and complex characters compel readers to do the same.

Terrorist is not easy reading. I did not get caught up in the plot, and that was disappointing. It was easy for me to put the novel down after 25 pages, both because I needed time to process and because it did not always keep my attention. Updike is a great writer, and Terrorist shows that; however, everyone may not like the book.

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User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
one that got away, Member terrymarshallgibson

With Philip Roth's Everyman, Updike's Terrorist is one of two recent literary marvels from masters at the height of their creative powers. How Terrorist has escaped the attention and praise it deserves is baffling. It fulfills so many tasks of fiction so richly and rewardingly. It is absorbing as it is thick in its description of place and character, and these story elements are woven at times lyrically. Updike instructs and entertains in the same sentence. If readers are provoked or feel a need to read the volume, short as it is, a second time, then do. I read it last year and am about to again. Character portraits it feels on par with include Bellow's Moses Herzog, Tommy Wilhelm in the same author's Seize the Day; Mailer's Gary Gilmore in the Executioner's Song, Handke's Joseph Block in Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, Jim Harrison's Farmer, and Updike's own marvelous Rabbit Angstrom and his son Nelson in Rabbit is Rich. The young protagonist, Ahmad, is actually a product of the adults who surround and claim responsibility for him. His idealism and needs are in direct proportion by Updike to the neglect, self-indulgence, and mystification of his teachers, counselors, and single mother. He is abandoned; and proves not all that diverse and complicated than his peers in the end, in fact, luckier and even outdistancing them because his zeal has given Ahmad a perceptive and intellectual clarity far surpassing others of his generation. Everyman and Terrorist are both flawed by sluggish editing, perhaps, but that is a minor criticism. Don't miss this one.

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