The Association of Small Bombs: A Novel – Karan Mahajan


The Association of Small Bombs: A Novel – Karan Mahajan

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When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb—one of the many “small” bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world—detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys, to the devastation of their parents. Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb. After a brief stint at university in America, Mansoor returns to Delhi, where his life becomes entangled with the mysterious and charismatic Ayub, a fearless young activist whose own allegiances and beliefs are more malleable than Mansoor could imagine. Woven among the story of the Khuranas and the Ahmeds is the gripping tale of Shockie, a Kashmiri bomb maker who has forsaken his own life for the independence of his homeland.

Karan Mahajan writes brilliantly about the effects of terrorism on victims and perpetrators, proving himself to be one of the most provocative and dynamic novelists of his generation.

“Wonderful. . . . Smart, devastating, unpredictable, and enviably adept in its handling of tragedy and its fallout. If you enjoy novels that happily disrupt traditional narratives—about grief, death, violence, politics—I suggest you go out and buy this one. Post haste.”
—Fiona Maazel, The New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant. . . . Mr. Mahajan’s writing is acrid and bracing, tightly packed with dissonant imagery. . . . The Association of Small Bombs is not the first novel about the aftermath of a terrorist attack, but it is the finest I’ve read at capturing the seduction and force of the murderous, annihilating illogic that increasingly consumes the globe.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“[A] beautifully written novel. . . . Ambitious. . . . Carries us deep into the human side of a tragedy. . . .”
—The Washington Post

“Darkly incisive . . . timely. . . . In Mahajan’s riveting and intricate story, the aftershocks of small bombs are as inescapable as their explosions.”

“Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs urgently depicts the toll of terrorism on victims and perpetrators.”
—Vanity Fair

“A wise, searing, sculptural approach to the roots and aftermaths of terrorism and radicalization. . . . Mahajan has mastered a nonpareil 360-degree portrait of one of the most disturbing, least understood malaises of our time.”
—The Millions

“A psychologically intimate and stylistically compelling examination of the ripple effects of small acts of terrorism. . . . In a post-9/11 world, this novel should be considered a must-read.”
—The Huffington Post

“Beautiful and evocative . . . a compelling story about extremism and its effects.”

“With The Association of Small Bombs . . . [Mahajan] may well have moved into the upper reaches of contemporary fiction.”
—Flavorwire, Most Anticipated Books of 2016

“This one will hit you hard. . . . Powerful, breathtaking, and unforgettable, this book pulls out dynamic insight on the effects of terrorism on its victims.”

“Besides having one of the most instantly memorable titles for a novel in recent memory, Karan Mahajan’s new novel explores the life of a young man in the aftermath of a horrific event that takes the life of two of his friends. With a story that crosses continents and addresses questions of nationalism, terrorism, and the effects of violence, this novel seems ready to engage with some of our era’s looming issues.”
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn, “March 2016 Books Preview”

“Mahajan’s talent is in conveying the sense that the world is gray, not black-and-white, and he accomplishes this by weaving together the evolving motives and passions of his characters so intricately that in the end we see each as culpable, and human. In his searing story, lives (and life itself) are subjected to close inspection and at times discombobulation.”
—Publishers Weekly

“In the virtuosic opening of Mahajan’s timely second novel, he writes, ‘a good bombing begins everywhere at once.’ This setup works well for the broad array of story lines connected to a 1996 detonation of a small but potent bomb in a humble Delhi marketplace. . . . The anchoring characters are Mansoor and Shockie, a Kashmiri bomb maker who refers to his deadly art as ‘making chocolate,’ even as he worries about his victims and his ill mother. Mahajan’s terrorists and social activists are never content to settle into one venue or mindset.”

“[Mahajan is] strong at exploring the very long shockwaves of small-scale violence.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“In this fine novel, Karan Mahajan has achieved a brilliant and distinctive success. The sources, and unbearable, unending, consequences of a terrorist atrocity constitute a subject extremely difficult to capture in a work of serious literature. But with his intelligence, humanity, and art, Mahajan has given us a deep portrait of life in a kind of darkness.”
—Norman Rush, National Book Award-winning author of Mating and Mortals

“Karan Mahajan is a writer with great command and acute and original insights. He offers what few can: a stereoscopic view of reality in dark, contemporary times.”
—Rachel Kushner, author of the National Book Award Finalist The Flamethrowers

“Like a Russian novel set in India, Karan Mahajan’s Association of Small Bombs has the sweep, wisdom and sensibility of the old masters. Here the humor of Bulgakov and the heart of Pasternak deliver an exploded-view of a small bomb that goes off in a minor market in a corner of South Delhi. Like shrapnel, themes of suffering, dislocation and redemption radiate from the blast, and none will be spared Mahajan’s piercing gaze. Urgent and masterful, this novel shows us how bystander, bomber, victim, and survivor will forever share a patch of scorched ground.”
—Adam Johnson, author of the National Book Award winner Fortune Smiles and the Pulitzer Prize winner The Orphan Master’s Son

“The Association of Small Bombs is a wondrous, devastating novel—packed with small wonders of beauty and heartbreak that are impossible to resist.”
—Dinaw Mengestu, MacArthur “Genius” grantee and author of All Our Names

“The Association of Small Bombs is a brilliant examination of aftermath, how life is built of consequences, both imagined and unimagined, the tight web of human life and human sympathy. Karan Mahajan knows everyone, on every side of a detonation: the lost, the grieving, the innocent, the guilty, the damaged. It’s hilarious and also devastating. Karan Mahajan is a virtuoso writer, and this is a wonderful book.”
—Elizabeth McCracken, Story Prize-winning author of Thunderstruck & Other Stories

“A gripping, timely, and moving novel by a writer of enormous talent.”
—Geoff Dyer, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Otherwise Known as the Human Condition

“Packed with insight into the minds of a diverse cast of characters, The Association of Small Bombs is often breathtaking in its wisdom and maturity. With one sharp observation after another, Mahajan renders a picture of religious and political tension in Delhi that is as unforgettable as it is heartbreaking.”
—Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

“Karan Mahajan’s thoughtful, touching and perfectly pitched account of two marketplace bombings and the casual havoc they cause in a handful of Delhi families is almost subversive in its even-handedness and its charity. For all its unflinching—and unnerving—fatalism, The Association of Small Bombs is an unusually wise, tender, and generous novel.”
—Jim Crace, author of the Booker Prize finalist Harvest

“The Association of Small Bombs is an utterly brilliant book. Rarely does one encounter a work as masterful in the precision of its writing or as penetrating in the insights it provides. Karan Mahajan is a writer to be admired.”
—Kevin Powers, author of the National Book Award Finalist The Yellow Birds

“Karan Mahajan is daring comfortable readers to make an uncomfortable connection: between the bomb that goes off on the first page of his book, and the way the pages that follow seem to scatter, in bright-hot shards of heartbreaking story. The Association of Small Bombs, which tracks the aftermath of a blast in Delhi in 1996, is a work of disabused intelligence, and staggering compassion—for the victims, and even for the terrorists, all of whom are rendered whole, even if they’re in pieces. Its political subtlety is laudable for how relentlessly it’s paced, and the grace of its prose acts like a balm to its trauma. Mahajan’s sense of fiction as the history behind history puts him in league with Joseph Conrad, and like Conrad he succeeds brilliantly at writing past Empire, by relating the newest of news-cycles to the oldest of tale-cycles.”
—Joshua Cohen, author of Book of Numbers


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