cover image American Taliban

American Taliban

Pearl Abraham, . . Random, $25 (258pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6858-6

Abraham (The Seventh Beggar ) sends a young man of privilege from Washington. D.C.. on a spiritual quest that takes him from surfing the Outer Banks to encountering jihad in Pakistan. It’s 2000, and John Jude Parish is an 18-year-old surfer with a nose for exploring spirituality. He reads about Bob Dylan, digests the Tao, and corresponds online with Arabic friends about Islam. When he breaks a leg, he uses his time of enforced immobility to study Sufi poetry, which leads him, eventually, to Brooklyn, where he befriends a young man from Pakistan who suggests going abroad to learn more about Muslim culture. Once in Pakistan, each small step takes him closer to becoming radicalized. His journey toward Islam is not one of disenchantment, but of enlightenment, described in an evocative prose that mimics the confusion and grandeur of a young man driven by ideals. The novel is at its best when John’s questing is an earnest, balanced search for meaning, though when Abraham shifts her focus to John’s mother late in the book, the story flattens. Mostly, the book is excellent—considered, magnetic, surprising—but the fizzled ending is a major disappointment. (Apr.)