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American Taliban: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 13, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068584
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068586
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,315,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Pearl Abraham on American Taliban

On September 8th, 2001, I was in Mantova, Italy for the Festival Litteratura. Between engagements, on a bicycle to see this medieval city, I noticed a poster for a "qabala" exhibit. I tried following these strangely intermittent signs, came upon dead ends, retraced my steps, and tried again, an experience out of a Borges story. The next day, directions in hand, I got to see the works of renowned Kabbalists whose names I'd known since childhood, whose complex of ideas were bound up in the rituals and customs of the Hasidic life I'd lived, and in the novel I was then writing. On my way out, I purchased the catalog to the exhibition and read about the Mantova library's priceless collection. So when at dinner my Italian publisher asked whether there was anything I wanted to see or do, an offer they made each of their participating authors, I was prepared. But the library was under construction, the collection locked in a vault. Borges again. Later that day, the phone rang. The mayor of Mantova would meet us at the vault with the key.

I arrived at Newark Airport late evening, in time to teach my 9 a.m. craft class at Sarah Lawrence. In the morning, I drove up the Henry Hudson. It was a brilliantly blue fall day, first day of classes. On the radio, the traffic report was interrupted for a story about a plane accident.

Five minutes into the session, cell phones started ringing. Then came a knock at the door. Classes were cancelled. The city shut down. I couldn't go home. On the lumpy sofa in the attic office of Sarah Lawrence's Writing Program, I tried sleeping off my jet lag, but I couldn't bring myself to turn off the radio. Announcers repeated what they knew more times than I could count, rehearsing the blow-by-blow of an event no one understood. Yet.

In the weeks that followed Americans rallied around the flag, a nationalism that both soothed and frightened simultaneously. With this surge came, as it usually does, rage and racism and the demonization of the other. American Muslims became afraid. And then, in November, a strange phenom emerged: an American-born, American-bred Taliban. The fury that John Walker Lindh's story elicited was extreme, and in that environment he didn't have a chance. Lindh wasn't the only one of these strange hybrids, both American and Taliban. Yasir Hamdi, Adam Gadahn and others emerged later.

The journeys of these young men struck me as variations on the story I was then finishing. The protagonist of The Seventh Beggar becomes interested in Gnostic meditations on the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), in which Jesus too is said to have engaged, as a way to tap into higher powers. Lindh too was an idealistic seeker, and his tragedy, an accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, haunted me.

Americans were asking how an educated young man from a well-to-do family could end up fighting a jihad that had nothing to do with his family or his country, and journalists tried answering them. The more interesting question, it seemed to me, was not HOW and WHAT, but WHY, E. M. Forster’s differentiation between story and plot. And for exploring questions of causality, the novel is the perfect form.

(Photo © Christine Pabst)

From Publishers Weekly

Abraham (The Seventh Beggar) sends a young man of privilege from Washington. D.C.. on a spiritual quest that takes him from surfing the Outer Banks to encountering jihad in Pakistan. It's 2000, and John Jude Parish is an 18-year-old surfer with a nose for exploring spirituality. He reads about Bob Dylan, digests the Tao, and corresponds online with Arabic friends about Islam. When he breaks a leg, he uses his time of enforced immobility to study Sufi poetry, which leads him, eventually, to Brooklyn, where he befriends a young man from Pakistan who suggests going abroad to learn more about Muslim culture. Once in Pakistan, each small step takes him closer to becoming radicalized. His journey toward Islam is not one of disenchantment, but of enlightenment, described in an evocative prose that mimics the confusion and grandeur of a young man driven by ideals. The novel is at its best when John's questing is an earnest, balanced search for meaning, though when Abraham shifts her focus to John's mother late in the book, the story flattens. Mostly, the book is excellent—considered, magnetic, surprising—but the fizzled ending is a major disappointment. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Pearl Abraham is the author of four novels, American Taliban (forthcoming), The Seventh Beggar, Giving Up America, and The Romance Reader, and the editor of the Dutch anthology Een Sterke Vrou: Jewish Heroines in Literature. Her stories and essays have appeared in literary quarterlies and anthologies. The Seventh Beggar was one of three finalists for the 2005 Koret Award in Fiction. The Romance Reader was a semi-finalist for the Discover Award.

The third of nine children, Abraham was born in Jerusalem, Israel, and English is her third language.

Abraham, who has taught at NYU, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Houston, is currently a professor of literature and creative writing at Western New England College. She lives in NYC.

Customer Reviews

Abraham has written a book that is both a good story and challenging, insightful read.
W. D. Temple
Btw, I too thought this was a non-fiction book when I got it from the library - but I read it anyway.
T. Marsh
The telling of his journey ended abruptly, too abruptly for me to feel even slightly satisfied.
E. Lee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. Lee on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Is it just me? Or is anyone else wondering what happened to John? The book was riveting right up until the last page, I will give it that. The story of John was plausible, and I read with baited breath to discover where his amazing journey took him. Having said that, it seems to me that Ms. Abraham forgot to add the last chapter. The chapter that would tell what ever became of John. The telling of his journey ended abruptly, too abruptly for me to feel even slightly satisfied. I feel cheated. I invested my time and energy into John, and then poof! He was nowhere to be found. Big. Fat. Disappointment.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John Hughes on June 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Pearl Abraham's powerful novel "American Taliban" is the story of John Jude Parish, turned 19 years old during the course of the book, a scion of privilege, and sole offspring of well-educated, liberal, east coast parents Bill and Barbara Parish. In a story inspired by the real life drama of John Walker Lindh, John Jude, named after Barbara's favorite Beatle and a Beatle song, embraces Islam and takes that to the limit. He winds up with the Taliban in the wilds of Afghanistan.
Abraham deals with major concerns of consciousness, spirituality, and world views in this incisely written tale. John embodies post-modern mentality at the story's beginning, as he loves his Dylan, his Emerson, and his Tao Te Ching, while also talking Muslim spirituality with strangers in a chat room. He loves to surf off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where he and his pals Katie, Sylvie and Jilly explore the razor's edge of extreme sports with existential aplomb. With his post-modern openness to the truths of all wisdom traditions, he begins to plumb the depths of Islam, and to study classical Arabic, moving to Brooklyn to do so after a broken leg cuts his surfing summer short. His parents support this move, not troubled by the fact that, in his openness, John is beginning to embrace a traditional worldview--a gorgeous, intricate, deeply moving and transcendent sectarian perspective. Sectarian perspective, as in, not open, and propounding the belief that theirs is vastly superior to other faiths.
John, with his romantic, 19th century notion of travelling faraway lands in quest of self-transcendance, leaves his dual love interests in America, and heads off for a summer of study in Pakistan.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Odinn on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Pearl is a good story teller and she accurately captures how an 18-year-old's intuition does not match up to his belief that he's indestructible. What I like most about this book is the simple truth that our decisions take us on paths we may never expect to travel and that there can be consequences that are beyond our present-day understanding.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By W. D. Temple on May 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Pearl Abraham has done something interesting with the notion of how a smart, young American could find himself in the thrall of enemy combat camps. She's made her story one of belief and of the strong parallels that lie at the foundation of disparate spiritual views.

Her soul surfer John Jude wants to give himself over to something more, something greater. Abraham introduces the reader to this idea early when John Jude finds himself under the waves and in no hurry to surface while he takes in the whole of the experience. He finds ideas that touch upon this in Sufism and pursues his growing interest in Islam with that all-encompassing verve of an 18-year-old, all along idolizing the great English explorer Richard Burton. What he does the farther he goes is believable, frustrating, endearing and frightening, just like a teenager can be. Just like parents hope they won't be.

Abraham has written a book that is both a good story and challenging, insightful read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lee on May 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The young impassioned seeker is one of Pearl Abraham's quintessential subjects, and in John Jude she has created an extraordinary hero uniquely of our time. Previous readers of her work will recognize Abraham's intimate, fiercely intelligent style which carries this tale as a wave carries a surfer, with an intensity that is almost surreal.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By I. K. Leenheer on May 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It is August 2000, and John Jude Parish, an 18 year old American surfer, skater and lover of philosophy, breaks his leg while skating. A year later we find him in a training camp in Pakistan, ready to join the armed forces of the Taliban in Afghanistan. How can an all American surfer, who is into Bob Dylan, Walt Whitman and Hegel, have radicalized in such a short time? Pearl Abraham crawls inside the head of a teenager who is searching for spirituality, beauty and purity in his life, and who slowly sacrifices his identity to become part of a bigger whole. The writer surprisingly and effectively changes gears and perspective in the final part of the novel, when we see the mother's struggle to understand her son, giving it an emotional resonance. A heartfelt ending to an intellectual pageturner, that not only manages to make John Jude's huge leap plausible, but also makes you think, long after you've put down the novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By valis1949 on February 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
John Jude Parish is the scion of a wealthy,loving,and educated family who seems to be headed for a life full of only the best accouterments that the western world can offer. However, this college aged 'truth seeker' becomes attracted to the tenets of Islam, and makes a pilgrimage to Pakistan right before the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Abraham's central character, John Jude Parish is modeled after John Walker Lindh who actually did join the Taliban in 2001. However, John Jude is much more enamored by the nineteenth century explorer, philosopher, and adventurer, Richard Burton, than the violent interpretations of Osama Bin Laden. He views Islam as a viable world religion, and is enthusiastic to understand and to be moved by the beliefs and principles of this doctrine. This novel examines the teachings of Islam through the eyes of someone who is searching for a new meaning for life, and it allows the reader to understand how one might come to embrace this faith. I think that too often westerners think that to embrace Islam is to be, "hypnotized by The Evil Doers", and Pearl Abraham makes the case that this faith is as legitimate as any other.
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