This is a very interesting and well written novel by Sean Boling, whose collection of short stories (“Pigs and Other Living Things”) I have already reviewed on this blog. It’s about an attempt by Islamic terrorists to insert a long term “sleeper” agent into the US. This is to be done by smuggling a pregnant Algerian woman into the country and passing her off as a South American immigrant; her son, the Abraham of the title, is to be raised to carry out as yet unspecified tasks on behalf of his terrorist masters, making use of his status as a US citizen (which comes from having been born in the US). For non-US readers, I should probably explain that the term “anchor baby” is a pejorative term used to refer to illegal immigrants coming into the US to give birth and then using their offspring to sponsor immigration by other family members.
Put like that, it may sound like one of those slightly paranoid conspiracy thrillers, similar to the TV series “Homeland” (which also revolves around a character who seems to be ‘one of us’, but may in fact be ‘one of them’). And there are some genuine similarities with “Homeland” (or at least the first series of it, which is all I’ve watched) – in particular, the question of whether one of the central characters is going to turn out to be a ‘bad guy’ after all. In this case, the author skilfully keeps you guessing as to whether Abraham is going to turn out “as intended” by his terrorist mentors (and also whether he and others, particularly his mother and Khalil, the man who smuggled her into the US, will continue to cooperate with the plan). In fact, once I was around half way through, I found the novel hard to put down.
In other respects though, my comparison with “Homeland” is misleading, because most of the way through, there is no parallel law enforcement plot-line; instead, the focus is mainly on those involved in the terrorist enterprise. Refreshingly, these characters are not generally portrayed as evil, crazed ideologues. The first one we meet, Khalil, has already decided that he wants out, but is too weak-willed to extricate himself. Tariq, his Middle-Eastern “handler” is less sympathetic, but is motivated more by money and power than by ideological fervour. Meanwhile Najah, the pregnant girl he smuggles into the US, is partly a victim of her circumstances; to the extent that she cooperates with the plan, she is largely motivated by a desire to escape a domineering father and a life of housebound drudgery in Algeria. Even Mohammed, the most sinister character, appears to spend most of his time engaged in various forms of organised crime to “raise funds for his investors,” rather than plotting the demise of Western civilisation. For me, this was a more insightful approach than the average fictional treatment of terrorism, which usually puts the emphasis on poisonous ideology – when in fact, in its tendency to prey upon people’s weaknesses, terrorism has much in common with other forms of more “conventional” anti-social behaviour, like drug-running or organised prostitution.
But what I really liked about the novel is that you can read it on lots of different levels. Yes, it’s partly about how terrorism works – but you can also read it on a more “existential” level as being about free will versus fate or nature versus nurture. It also has some interesting things to say about Western society and our attitudes to issues like immigration – because by the end, even Abraham’s friends from school (who have no involvement with the terrorist scheme) have become morally compromised to some degree. In that respect, the novel reminded me a little of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid, especially as both protagonists initially seem to have golden academic/professional careers ahead of them in the US, yet end up on a very different path. But I wouldn’t want to push that comparison too far because there are some very important differences (Abraham, for example, does not have the same sense of cultural identity as the Pakistani narrator in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and the reasons for his disillusionment are somewhat different).
So to sum up, this is a gripping and well written story (if
a little bit slow to get going) but I wouldn't really describe it as a thriller –
and if we’re going to stick with TV shows as a comparison, “Homeland” probably
isn’t the best point of reference.
Instead, try to imagine the writers of ”The Wire” doing with terrorism
what they did with drug crime – but minus the law enforcement plot-line. Then re-imagine that as a fairly compact
literary novel with shades of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” – and there you have
it, ladies and gentlemen, “Abraham the Anchor Baby Terrorist.” If, as is quite likely, you have absolutely no
idea what I am attempting to describe here – well then, you’ll just have to
read the book, won’t you?
Sean Boling has a number of other free novels on
Smashwords. So far, I have only read
“Satellite Campus,” which I also enjoyed – but be warned that it deals with completely
different subject matter (focussing on the central character’s relationship with
his mother, who has developed Alzheimers).
At the time of writing, all Sean Boling’s books (including “Abraham the
Anchor Baby Terrorist”) were free. Click
here to go to a download page.
Posted by Paul Samael. Posted In : Book reviews