The Association of Small Bombs: A Novel
by Karan Mahajan

Published: 2016-03-22
Hardcover : 288 pages
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Longlisted for the National Book Award & the FT/Oppenheimer Emerging Voices Award
New York Times Editors’ Choice
Named a Best Book of 2016 by: Esquire, Time magazine, Vulture.com 

“Wonderful. . . . Smart, devastating, unpredictable, and enviably adept in its handling of tragedy ...

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Longlisted for the National Book Award & the FT/Oppenheimer Emerging Voices Award
New York Times Editors’ Choice
Named a Best Book of 2016 by: Esquire, Time magazine, Vulture.com 

“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

“[Mahajan’s] eagerness to go at the bomb from every angle suggests a voracious approach to fiction-making, a daring imaginative promiscuity that moves beyond the scope of his first, very good novel, Family Planning.” The New Yorker

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

For readers of Mohsin Hamid, Dave Eggers, Arundhati Roy, and Teju Cole, The Association of Small Bombs is an expansive and deeply humane novel that is at once groundbreaking in its empathy, dazzling in its acuity, and ambitious in scope

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.

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Discussion Questions

1. It seems easy at times for those of us who live in western societies to ignore or, worse, seem not to care about bombings that occur in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. But The Association of Small Bombs insists that we must care. Has reading the novel changed the way you view distant events?

2. A great deal of thought has gone into what inspires terrorists. In both Shockie and Malik, and later Ayub, the author attempts to present bomb makers/terrorists who readers may find sympathetic. Do you? Does the book provide insights into a terrorist's psyche or motivations? Are terrorists monsters or sociopathic killers?

3. Talk about the different phases and shapes of grief that Mansoor and the Khuranas experience as they attempt to cope with the loss of Tushar and Nakul. Why, for instance, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, does Mansoor walk away from the bodies of his friends? Consider Vikas' obsession to film Delhi markets, his need perhaps to "hide" behind his camera.

4. Follow-up to Question 3: How, in particular, does the death of their children undermine the Khuranas' marriage? Were there visible rifts before the bombings?

5. In his grief, Vikas thinks to himself:

When things are good, you can think of no other way of living; when things are in ruins, there appear a million solutions for how this fate could have been avoided.

Is this a thought pattern common to most of us? Do we often reflect on how our troubles might have been prevented, how we might have done things differently; by the same token, how typical is it to accept, without questioning, our good fortune?

6. Talk about Ayub and his influence over Mansoor? Describe how he helps Mansoor heal, both physically (using visualization and holistic techniques) and spiritually (turning to prayer). What about the young men's faith?—Ayub's belief, for instance, that "prayer keeps keeps you focused on the eternal present." Would you consider Aybu and Mansoor's faith radical Islam...or is it more nuanced?

7. Six years later, when he learns he is permanently impaired, Mansoor feels rage toward Vikas and Deepra Khurana. "Why," he wonders, "had they been so irresponsible—with him in particular?" He recalls that Uncle Vikas had "perversely cajoled him into going with Tushar and Nakul to the market" (p. 162). Is he right to blame the Khuranas for what happened? Should the adults have been more cautious?

8. The Association of Small Bombs makes comparisons between the life of the West with its emphasis on individualism and materialism and the traditional Indian values. Some of the evidence is persuasive. On the other hand, we are also shown an India beset with an responsive political system, a corrupt justice system, sectarian violence, and dire poverty. Is there justification for either view point?

8. Discuss the underlying motivations of the terrorists in the novel. In The Association of Small Bombs, they don't seem to murder in the name of Allah; instead, they seem more politically motivated. What are the issues?

9. One of the major questions posed by the book is this: how can people force governments to address their grievances? After the failure of the protest organized by Ayub and Tara, Ayub wonders whether peaceful protest has any affect: "What would Gandhi do if he were alive today? Would the press even notice him?" Ayub, once a staunch believer in nonviolence, comes to believe that violent, not peaceful, methods bring change. Later, however, at the end of the book, he thinks of a bomb as a "child. A tantrum directed at all things." What do you think?

10. Think about the title: what is its significance? What are the various meanings of "small bombs"? Consider the line that Vikas says toward the end of the book, after he and Deepra form their Association: "The deadliness of an attack should not be measured by its size."

11. Does The Association of Small Bombs offer any path for hope?

Courtesy of Litlovers

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by Lolo S. (see profile) 07/26/19

by Joseph W. (see profile) 03/21/18

  "In simple prose, the mind of the terrorist and consequences of terrorism are explored."by Gail R. (see profile) 05/21/16

The Association of Small Bombs’ By Karan Mahajan?, author, Neil Shah, narrator
The Association of Small Bombs’ By Karan Mahajan?, author, Neil Shah, narrator
In 1996, two brothers we

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