"Khair, whose earlier novel 'The Thing About Thugs' was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, tackles the troubling but timely development in Europe and North America: radicalizing and recruiting young people to fight for the Islamic State. Told from the perspective of Jamilla, a young British Muslim, the novel probes the motivations for why Jamilla and her childhood friend Ameena run away from northern England to Syria in order to join the jihad. Timing is impeccable in Khair's novel. The two women connect with Hejjiye, a recruiter on social media, at a vulnerable time, when neither sees a way forward in their current lives. While the basic story is straight from present-day headlines, Khair does justice to their identity struggles, presenting a balanced, even empathetic portrayal. The girls never become stereotypes. Jamilla's simple, first-person narrative is riveting, and the ending is unexpected. Many will see parallels to Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist. VERDICT Recommended for all collections and especially for YA readers."
The publishing industry cranks out thousands of titles each year, all vying for attention in an oversaturated marketplace. A small number of titles manage to hog most of the buzz, and many terrific books slip past unnoticed. As 2016 draws to a close, Newsday's book reviewers look back at 12 unsung fiction and nonfiction titles that deserved more praise this year... Just Another Jihadi Jane: This confession by a British Muslim girl who runs away with her best friend to join Daesh (the Arabic name for ISIS) is a novel, but it feels electrifyingly real. Jamilla and Ameena have grown up together in industrial Northern England, navigating between the precepts of Islam and the temptations of soccer players and cigarettes. Through Facebook and Twitter, they follow various preachers and Islamists; they meet young women around the world who share their religious interests. One of their contacts gradually persuades them to run away from home, join her in Syria and become jihadi brides. Every bit of illusion they have about the movement will be burned away as the disaster of this choice becomes clear.
Two British Muslim girls run away to Syria to join ISIS but find something far beyond disillusionment. This superb novel is a cousin to Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) in both theme and structure. Here again a murky, reviled aspect of Muslim experience is brilliantly revealed; here again the form of the story is a single confidence shared with a silent listener. Jamilla and her friend Ameena are childhood friends from a town in the north of England. At home they speak Urdu; elsewhere, English with the local accent-'A think A told yer to bugger off.' Jamilla's family is conservative; she is a passionate student and believer. She never goes out without her niqab, for which she is endlessly harassed, but she also feels at odds with the Islam of her parents, who 'reduce God to a little bookkeeping clerk.' Ameena's mum and dad are divorced, materialistic, and Westernized; Ameena herself smokes cigarettes and is mad for a soccer player at school who looks like David Beckham. The girls' on-again, off-again friendship takes a fateful turn when Ameena is humiliated by her crush, then meets on Facebook a strikingly beautiful woman with an adorable cat. Hejjiye is a recruiter for Daesh, the Arabic acronym for ISIS. 'Just pack your bags and leave, ' she tells them. The plan is for them to become brides of jihadists, but while the more boy-crazy Ameena, who travels with a pack of made-in-China artificial hymens, is quickly married off, Jamilla schemes to remain at the so-called orphanage run by Hejjiye. Both girls quickly get to know their new associates. 'The careerists win everywhere, believe me! exclaims Jamilla. "Hassan's fanaticism was a career to him. Killing was his corporate job. Apocalypse was how he planned to corner the market.' By the way, this is Ameena's husband she is talking about. And there is no cat.Was this intense, enlightening novel really written not by a British Muslim girl but a male Indian novelist who lives in Denmark? It seems impossible. Required reading for anyone interested in trying to understand our mad, bloody world."
"When you're tired of reading the umpteenth news report on the ISIS, you may want to pick up this work of "fiction," to allow yourself to confront everything that hard news may not be able to tell you.... Jamilla's plain speaking voice hides deeper, complex truths-some spoken and others left to our imagination-making us question our prejudices and fears all along."-The Huffington Post India
This powerful, compelling, urgent novel succeeds in being compassionate towards its principal characters without flinching from the full horror of their choices.
– Amitav Ghosh, author of Sea of Poppies, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
In his wise, nuanced evocation of a young British woman's soul-devouring love affair with Islamic State, Tabish Khair powerfully exposes the religious hypocrisy and bloodlust of one of this era's most magnetic and ruthless movements. This novel's triumphand the world's tragedyis that Jamilla's haunting, searing experience does not read like a work of fiction. This is not just a writer's nightmare: it is ours.
– Liz Jensen, author of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
[Khair] gets behind the flat headlines to the three-dimensional human story and takes its pulse with unflinching honesty. This is a gripping, compassionate and truthful novel, written in prose of unobtrusive beauty.
– Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Khair ventures into the space [between rabid Islamophobia and fundamentalist Islamism] with rare courage and truthfulness, in the process also forcing the reader to look both inwards and outwards more carefully and question where we are headed. It is not just a piece of excellent fiction; it is a very necessary and urgent reminder for all of us to examine our own views and prejudices.