Jihadi: a Love Story

Written by Yusuf Toropov

Review written by Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer has read crime fiction since her teenage years & enjoys reviewing within the many sub-genres that now exist; as a historian who lectures on real life historical mysteries she particularly appreciates historical cime fiction.

Jihadi: a Love Story
Orenda Books
RRP: £8.99
Released: February 15 2016

This book resembles a jigsaw puzzle which the reader must assemble from fragments of an illicit terrorist memoir, actions of Islamic extremists and US soldiers in the USA, the Islamic Republic and the attempts of one woman to save her family.

The story begins with pages from the secret memoir of an American terrorist incarcerated in a government facility; this document is possibly being read by his interrogator/executioner after his death.  Nothing is clear at first - experiences of the memoirist are often hallucinatory and even his apparently simple memories are of suspect accuracy. 

Gradually the story of Thelonius Liddell, the treasonous operative, unfolds though the random notes of his possible executioner make the whole thing seem increasingly unhinged.  The lyrics of Beatles songs to which the commentator refers seem to offer strange interpretations.  Indeed all the commentaries are bizarre.   At times Liddell has real or imaginary conversations in which complex and opposing ideas of Islam and Western values are aired.  Other times he remembers incidents from his life with his wife in America.  Meanwhile we follow Fatima who is a half-American half-Islamic girl who can be a translator or even interrogator because she had lived in the USA and speaks perfect English.

The overlying and sickening violence of the tale is unpleasant reading. Most of the characters are repellent and the appealing ones all seem to get killed!  I don't see this as crime fiction, a spy novel or even as a thriller. I think I would call it a war novel and, moreover, one that has definite pretensions as a literary novel.  The irony of the subtitle “A Love Story” is obvious. 

There are some climactic moments and the inability of both sides to see the other's point of view is well illustrated.  The constrictions of women's lives, the increasing spiral of cruelty, the ways that fanatical ideas are inculcated into the populace, and the similarities of extremists on both sides are some of the ideas explored. The vagaries of such underground warfare become clear.   That is as clear as is possible in this post-modern novel, which exists with multiple viewpoints and fragmentary entries.  I feel that this was an exercise in cleverness by the author and, as I stated above, but perhaps does not quite qualify it as a crime novel.


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