Book Review: The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan


One of the NY Times Top Ten Books of 2016 and finalist of the National Book Award 2016, The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan is a devastating tale of grief.

Chapter 0 of Mahajan’s book poignantly notes that “A good bombing begins everywhere at once“. The wide ranging feat of this book follows this observation.  Whilst on a trip to a local Delhi market, a bomb goes off leaving two boys dead and their friend injured.  The story follows the family of the deceased boys campaigning tirelessy for justice and compensation through Indian’s corrupt and lethargic legal system, the family of the injured boy paranoid of losing their son again and the terrorists culpable for the bombings themselves.

The novel, similar to The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid, takes the reader on the journey of why the ‘terrorists’ came to be.  The thought process, the injustices they felt and the reasons why they do what they do.  Mahajan does not seek to rationalise their behaviour but simply presents it to the reader.

Mahajan’s choice of viewing the affects of the bombing through different characters emphasises the fragmentary nature of the bomb itself.  Grief eclipses one marriage where dreams become more understandable than life itself, fear dominates the other marriage where paranoia leads to over-protection and sheer frustration encourages NGO members to commit non-sensical violence leading to the second bomb blast of the story.

One of the most powerful lines in this book was where the injured victim of the bomb blast notes how “After a certain point the violence in your life acquires unreality through repetition“.  In light of the significant commentary received for the lack of coverage of other bombings straight after the Paris attacks last year – this couldn’t be more of an apt observation of today’s world.  Have we become numb to the pain and suffering of our fellow humans?  You only have to see the atrocities going on in Syria to agree with that statement.

I enjoy finding new Indian authors who write with such authenticity as Mahajan.  His previous novel, Family Planning, is now firmly on the TBR pile.

Recommended for: those who enjoy challenging perspectives.  If you like the sound of this one – you will enjoy Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

Rating: 5/5

Favourite quote: “Indians were like that, happy to be puppets of fate.  ‘Chalta Hai.’ ‘It’s in God’s hands.’ ‘Everything goes.’

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!

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