Jihadi, by Yusuf Toropov, is not an easy book to get into but will reward the persistent reader with the satisfaction of having consumed an impressive work of literature. The narrative hooks brought to mind the Fibonnaci sequence. After a slow start the plot gathered pace until it was necessary to pause from time to time to absorb the multitude of ideas being conveyed. It is a layered and nuanced study of how society may be manipulated to further a cause.
The book is set out as a memoir written by a treasonous American operative during his incarceration in a secret government facility. The prologue suggests that this man, Ali Liddell, died during his interrogation. His executioner is now reading his words, making notes as they go along.
The notes appear personal and unhinged. The note writer listens to music and finds meaning in the lyrics to fit their desired interpretation, one of the more bizarre elements of the book. Perhaps it demonstrates that any words may be twisted to support an argument.
The story is a jigsaw puzzle. Pieces are offered out of order and must be slotted together until gradually what is being assembled becomes clear. It is set in the Islamic Republic and in America. Murders are planned and carried out in both locations.
Thelonius Liddell is a secret agent who kills on government orders. He has returned to his wife in America following a mission that did not go as planned. He appears to be suffering from something like PTSD. His wife, Becky, has a brain tumour that mimics schizophrenia. Her husband and father have tried to keep this prognosis from her that she may better enjoy whatever time she has left.
Liddell’s mission brought him into contact with a devout follower of Islam named Fatima. Fatima’s pregnant sister, her husband and mother-in-law have recently been killed by a shell fired from an American tank. Another shell killed a toddler and injured his eight year old brother. These events set in motion an uprising within the Islamic City where Fatima lives and works.
The story revolves around the intelligence services on both sides, the soldiers tasked with maintaining order, and the radicals who initiate the uprising. Among the Americans are those who think that any and all Muslims should be killed as they present a threat to civilisation. Among the followers of Islam are those who think that any and all Americans should be killed for similar reasons. It is clear that neither side truly believes in the tenets they espouse but use them to garner support for their cause, believing that the end justifies the means. The end they are looking for may be boiled down to personal gain.
What is being explored is the nature of terrorism and the personal cost to individuals on both sides of the hatred being whipped up by their leaders. This is not a new supposition but is presented in such a raw and compelling framework that it commands careful consideration. It does not, however, read as a political diatribe but rather as a study of humanity. The instinct to preserve, to seek control and to follow the herd are recognisable. There are also moments of humour in the tale – I chuckled at the reference to White Walkers.
Jihadi is strap-lined A Love Story. Just as the reader will question what is right or wrong, good or evil, so they may question what it means to love. Whatever language is spoken or creed followed, to seek to control, to dominate, is to accept submission. Where force is used suffering will follow, and it will not always be the ‘others’ who will suffer.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.