by Julie HaleJune, 2007
Updike's latest novel examines the problem of terrorism through the story of 18-year-old Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy. Ahmad lives in the decaying factory town of New Prospect, New Jersey, with his Irish-American mother. His father an Egyptian exchange student deserted the family when Ahmad was three. Ahmad is a good-looking kid, with polished manners and evident intelligence, all of which result in his being an outsider at school. Disillusioned with his mother, a would-be artist who can't seem to make a life for herself, Ahmad becomes a follower of Shaikh Rashid, the imam of a storefront mosque in New Prospect. In his isolation, he becomes preoccupied with the nature of God, and his strong religious impulses are preyed upon when Shaikh Rashid invites him to take part in a terrorist plot. Ahmad soon finds himself caught between two worlds the secular one that includes school and people like Joryleen Grant, an African-American girl he is drawn to, and the world of religion, which leads him to the brink of danger. When Jack Levy, one of Ahmad's teachers, senses that all is not right with the boy, he tries to prevent his downfall. Updike writes with precision and sensitivity about a timely topic, adding a wealth of detail about Islamic religion. This is a disturbing book from a masterful novelist a narrative that is sure to strike a nerve with readers.