10 July 2016

Review #483: Jihadi Jane by Tabish Khair

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Terrorism has no nationality or religion."

----Vladimir Putin

Tabish Khair, an India author, pens an extraordinary and brutally honest story about terrorism and Islam religion in his new book, Jihadi Jane that unfolds the story of a British Muslim woman who follows her best friend to the unknown and terrorism-gripped lands in Syria as this friend wants to get married to a jihadi man, in order to honor herself in the name of her religion and her holy god, Allah.


High-school best friends Ameena and Jamilla couldn’t be more different: while one smokes cigarettes in their school playground, the other is a member of her mosque’s discussion group in suburban Yorkshire. When heartbreak and doubt leave Ameena bereft and alone, she turns to Jamilla’s beloved Allah for solace and purpose.

It is then that both girls find themselves entranced by a powerful Internet preacher—Hejjiye, a woman running an orphanage-home in support of the men fighting in the name of jihad. Leaving their families and country behind, they run to join the Islamic State in Syria to serve a cause they unquestioningly believe in.

However, things begin to change for the worse once Ameena marries Hassan, a jihadi leader, and suddenly Jamilla begins to see the world that she left everything for differently. Getting out is almost impossible, but there is one way. Will the girls choose a path which might change their lives beyond recognition forever?

Heart-wrenching, masterful and stunningly powerful, Jihadi Jane paints a vivid picture of militant-brides operating around the world and the terrifying cost of religious fanaticism.

Ameena and Jamilla, the two high school best friends and Muslim girls, are so different from one another. Jamilla is the decent and obedient girl, whereas, Ameena is the rebellious and defective girl, who plays against the rules. In her high school days, Ameena falls head over heels in love with the hottest boy of their school, but within a few days, that guy breaks her heart, and that is when, Ameena slowly decides to be someone like Jamilla, a religious young lady. Eventually, within few years, Ameena turns into an extremely religious woman who is obsessed about Islamic fanaticism, and on her quest, to fight for the injustice happening against the Muslims, she finds herself allured by the teachings of an online Islamic preacher cum owner of an orphanage in support of the men fighting in the name of religion, Hejjiye. And soon, Ameena, along with her friend Jamilla in tow, finds herself on the dusty and sandy roads to that orphanage located in a nameless town in Syria. Little did she knew, that the man she is going to marry won't provide her any salvation or that it would change hers as well as Jamilla's lives for worse, getting out of which only means the inevitable death.

The book's synopsis instantly arrested my mind and soul, so when I got my hands on this book, I immediately got glued into the story line and could not even once look away from it, even though the story is high on some raw violence and heart-breaking moments. The story is very much real, even though it is fiction, but it somehow screams the modern era's biggest plague that is paralyzing the whole planet- terrorism. And the author has vividly capture this disease and the never ending war with this story of two friends.

The book not only features terrorism as its central theme, but also explores a sweet and strong bond of friendship and trust between two high school friends who end up together even long after their high school days are over. The author's writing style is not only evocative and articulate but has an extremely lyrical prose that will please the literary fiction readers a lot. The narrative is captivating and is laced with deep, heartfelt emotions that hold the power to move the readers deeply. The readers will at times find themselves crying over or getting mad or terrified or even feeling remorse all through out the story. The pacing is moderate and thus the readers will flow freely and swiftly with the course of the story.

The characters in this book are very much well-developed as they project their flaws and authenticity through their demeanor. The characters are, in short, highly appealing and realistic enough to make the readers feel that they exist somewhere in this planet. The main character, Jamilla, who narrates this whole story to the author about her friend, Ameena, is not that much of a brave hearted Muslim lady, instead, she is god-fearing woman who knows that keeping her mouth shut and obeying the orders will help her achieve a peaceful existence in this world. And actually this story mainly features Ameena, who is in the beginning, is projected as a badass girl who loves to break rules, then eventually evolving into someone mature, brave, determined and extremely religious woman, whose one goal is to eradicate the injustice done over Muslims all over the world, thereby joining in a hold matrimony with a jihadi man to support the cause, but there are so many layers in the story that are later revealed in the story, that changes Ameena completely into someone quite ideal and understanding.

The author peels away each layer and folds with the flow of the story and the readers will then understand that what actually happens in the name of religion, how illogical human beings are lusting for bloodshed and how some are fed with confusion to kill innocent people just in the name of Allah. People think that terrorists are evil, but that's not true, terrorists are not born evil, instead they are taught to be evil and those people are most evil and demonic who are actually teaching wrong and using innocent and illiterate minds to do their dirty work. And that message is strongly conveyed through this story and I bet the readers will ponder about these notions long after the end of this novel.

The backdrop of this novel depicts a beautiful yet a frightening portrait of Syria. The author has strikingly arrested and painted the grayish, sandy landscape with a patch of green wormwood here and there and the dilapidated, white and bombed architecture of the buildings and the souks that the readers will be instantly transported to this less traveled part of the world which is plagued by terrorism so badly in the recent times. Through the protagonist's account, the readers too can smell the gunpowder in the air and can also hear the sirens, the vibrations, the machine guns and the ghastly sounds of bombs dropping, and the author has penned each and every scene with such great detail, that the readers can simply visualize those terror-stricken scenes right before their own eyes.

In a nutshell, this story is not only opens so many eyes and enlightens so many minds, but also feels up the readers with hope, but this is just fiction. Overall, this is a compelling story that will instantly grip the readers with the pain, fear and violence but will also touch their souls with a strong bond of friendship between two women.

Verdict: If you're a literary fiction reader, then grab this intensely alarming book now!

Courtesy: Thanks to the author's publicist for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book. 

Author Info:
Tabish Khair was born and educated in Bihar, India. He worked in Delhi as a Staff Reporter until his late twenties and is now a professor at Aarhus University, Denmark. Winner of the All India Poetry Prize, his novels have been shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize (Hong Kong), the Hindu Best Fiction Prize and the Crossword Vodafone Literature Awards (India), the Encore Award (UK) and for translation prizes in Denmark and France.
Visit him here 

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