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The Good Son: A Novel Hardcover – May 11, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 160 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bestseller Gruber (Forgery of Venus) explores America's political involvement in South Asia and the bloody religious and ethnic fanaticism associated with the region in his superb seventh novel. Sonia Laghari, a Pakistani-American writer and psychologist, sets up a conference on peace in Kashmir, the most terrorist-infested place on earth, only to have her and her small group of pacifists abducted and held captive by terrorists, who may or may not be manufacturing nuclear weapons. All but doomed to a public beheading, Sonia uses her familiarity with Islamic doctrine as well as her knowledge of Jungian psychology in an attempt to enlighten her deeply conflicted captors. Though the numerous bombshells at the end may strain credulity, the brilliant character development and labyrinthine plot line, not to mention the absorbing history of modern jihadism and the U.S. war on terrorism, make this a provocative thriller that readers won't soon forget. (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gruber’s last two novels were about a forged Velázquez painting and an undiscovered Shakespeare play. Readers considering this one may wonder how well an author of art-historical thrillers will handle collisions between East and West, faith and unbelief, and Islam and Christianity. Those who have read it will ask a different question: Is there anything Gruber can’t write about? In this richly layered tale, Sonia Laghari’s attempt to convene a conference in Pakistan called “Conflict Resolution on the Subcontinent: A Therapeutic Approach” goes awry when the conferees are abducted by jihadis and told that one of them will be beheaded after each fresh infidel outrage. In the U.S., Sonia’s commando son, Theo, instigates a plot to bring about a military-backed rescue. But Sonia, with her wiles and her understanding of her captors, just might rescue herself. That’s the simple outline, but one of many pleasures in The Good Son is the way Gruber confounds simple explanations. Sonia, for example, is a Catholic Pole who converted to Islam before writing books that scandalized the Islamic world. She practices both religions without compunction and is a Jungian psychologist, to boot. And, before he became a shooter for the U.S. Intelligence Support Detachment, Theo was a mujahedeen hero in Afghanistan. (Trust us, it works.) The pace here isn’t as rapid as usual, and much of the story is told in flashback or as discourse. But there are twists and tension aplenty—ideas, too. If only governments were half as interested in the psychology of violence, maybe war itself might become a work of fiction. --Keir Graff

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (May 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091281
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (160 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,274,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Konrad Baumeister VINE VOICE on March 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Michael Gruber's The Good Son is simply an outstanding political thriller.

The plot itself is hard to compress into a simple paragraph; other reviewers will do that for you anyhow. Suffice to say that a conference with a theme of bringing peace to the Pakistani/Afghan/Kashmir area, viewed by its attendees through the prism of psychotherapy and psychology rather than straight politics, is hijacked by one of the multiple factions of jihadis infesting the area. Sonia Laghari, a highly unconventional woman with a highly unconventional family, is one of those abducted, and her son, Theo, one-time muj fighting against the Russians in Afghanistan in the 80s, and now killer commando doing black ops for the US Army, decides he must rescue her.

However, that's the least of it. Additional characters include the extended Pakistani family, ranging from 'businessman' of a certain sort to corrupt ISI leaders, fanatical jihadis and loving family men; the jihadi captors in their various factions, as well as the villagers living around them; and, in Washington DC, operatives from the CIA and NSA who are involved to a greater or lesser degree in the kidnapping and/or trying to prevent a nuclear disaster. Each of the characters is superbly drawn, vivid and fleshed out, fully believeable and outfitted with real and conflicting motivations. The story is masterfully told.

The three major plot lines develop more or less simultaneously, each told from a different POV. Sonia works through a combination of Sufi wisdom and self-control, and Jungian psychological insight and dream interpretation, to get under the skin and into the heads of the jihadis, while keeping the group of hostages from disintegrating, as the muj start cutting off heads.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have enjoyed Michael Gruber's psychological thrillers in the past, such as TROPIC OF NIGHT and THE BOOK OF AIR AND SHADOWS. They come nearer to the straight novel than most thrillers, in the relative complexity of their characters and their unusual settings. With THE GOOD SON, however, Gruber enters Clancy or Ludlum territory, with a novel that is more frankly political and of the moment. In a sentence: Sonia Laghari, an American married to a Pakistani, gets taken hostage by militants in Pakistan, and her son Theo uses his special forces skills to rescue her. The book may well have wide appeal; it is certainly long and detailed; but I personally have less taste for this genre.

One of Gruber's trademarks is to give his characters back-stories of amazing complexity; all of them are highly unusual people, but their unusualness itself becomes something of a cliché. Here, I'm afraid, he comes close to parodying himself. Sonia, it is revealed quite early on, grew up in a circus and trained as a magician. Penniless when she met her husband, she is barely accepted by his rich family, and eventually escapes, disguising herself as a boy (complete with prosthetic manhood) and entering the forbidden city of Mecca, later writing a book about her experiences. Later still, she studies to be a Jungian psychologist in Zurich, gaining skills which she will use in holding off and confusing her captors.
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Format: Hardcover
Some of you may already know Michael Gruber's unusual history as a writer. His first cousin, Robert K. Tanenbaum, asked him to ghost-write a legal thriller based on Tanenbaum's experiences as a prosecuting attorney. They split the royalties, but Tanenbaum was listed as sole author and got all the credit except for a fulsome acknowledgement ("All praise is due Michael Gruber...") at the beginning of each book. Their first book "No Lesser Plea" was so successful that "they" followed it with 13 or 14 more of the now famous Butch Karp/Marlene Ciampi exploits. As a part of their arrangement, Gruber was not to reveal his role as ghost-writer. Eventually Gruber apparently tired of not being able to answer such innocent inquiries as "And what do you do?" and started to spill the beans. When Tanenbaum found out, he fired his cousin, hired a new, much inferior ghost-writer, and Gruber began his career as a novelist in his own right and with his own name on the cover.

Gruber should thank his cousin for firing him as it pushed him to further reveal a talent that I regard as genius. In the legal thrillers, Gruber had demonstated a remarkable ability to understand and get inside sub-cultures, in this case the sub-cultures of the New York District Attorney's Office and various criminal networks. In his own novels he has expanded this talent to portray credibly everything from Cuban Santeria cults to Siberian tribal groups. In "The Good Son" this unique talent is on conspicuous display as we are invited inside the various cultures of Pashtun, Punjabi, CIA, jihadi, and a few other groups. It is truly an amazing tour de force. I know of no other writer who could pull this off.
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