Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: Spiral Road by Adib Khan

Spiral Road - Adib Khan

It has been thirty years since Masud Alam moved from his home country of Bangladesh to Australia, leaving behind his parents, sister and brother. Working as a librarian and living in Melbourne, Masud embraces the simple life that Richmond has to offer- going for runs on the oval, reading, playing chess and indulging in a (some may say dull) weekly routine that rarely changes.
One day Masud receives an email from his older brother Zia, requesting that he return to Bangladesh to visit their father- who is slowly fading away from Alzheimer’s.
Taking up the opportunity to visit and reconnect with his family, Masud travels back to his homeland, marvelling at the changes that have occurred since he left all those years ago, and ready to integrate himself into the family life once more.
On his return, he is drawn back into familial dramas- enduring matchmaking attempts by his mother, conversing with thieving servants, and trying to convince his wayward eighty-nine year old Uncle Musa (on Zia’s insistence) that he should not go ahead with his fourth marriage, to a seventeen-year-old girl.
While dealing with all of this, Masud also has to try and reconnect with his father, whose memory and motor skills are slowly deteriorating, and accept that he is no longer the strong and dominant man that he once was.
In an inspired attempt to understand his father’s often-incoherent ramblings, Masud begins to read his father’s old diaries, and finds himself uncovering old family secrets.
He also discovers just how hard his brother has worked to keep their once affluent family afloat, without allowing their family reputation to diminish.
But there are also sinister events unfolding during Masud’s visit that have a resounding impact on his life. A journalist who knows too much about Islamic extremist groups is found murdered, and an Australian spy makes it clear to Masud that he considers members of Masud’s family to be a threat to the Western world.
These events culminate in several very important questions for Masud: If he has to break family ties and betray a relative to save hundreds of people, will he do it? Will he remain loyal to the country he was born in and whose independence he fought for? Or will his loyalty lie with Australia, a country who adopted him and gave him a chance for a better life?

What I gained from reading this book:
This book focuses on the reasons why some young Muslims may get drawn into extremist groups. The author writes about the discontent that many young people felt after the September 11 attacks- many faced extreme prejudice from co-workers and peers, simply because they were Muslims. In the novel, several of the characters who worked in Western countries at the time of the attacks were taken into custody by police and government agencies and tortured for information that they didn’t even have, concerning the Middle East and Muslim terror cells. When they were finally freed, many took the first plane out of the country and travelled to escape the hurt and humiliation they felt in their adopted countries. With repressed anger and fear guiding them, the logical places to go were countries like Jordan and Afghanistan, where most people practice Islam, and they felt as though they could belong.
It was there that they enlisted in large, organised networks, hoping to gain vengeance on the countries that spurned them.
While we can’t be entirely sure that this scenario is an accurate portrayal of real life extremists, it does seem the most likely reason for such hateful actions against Western countries.
This novel shows that any kind of prejudice can often create long-term implications- for a greater number of people than those originally involved- and often with dire consequences.

Despite the terrorist subplot, the author illustrates a typical Bangladeshi life, through Masud’s family and friends. Readers learn about family hierarchies, local customs and beliefs, and about the day-to-day lives of people whose lifestyle is very different to our own.

The plot moves a little slowly in some parts, but while some readers may find this irritating, it is well worth persevering. As you get further into the novel, the narration becomes much more engrossing, and you’ll begin to wonder exactly how Masud is going to get out of his predicaments.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Genre: Family/ Relationships

Recommended for: People who are looking for a book that will make them question issues of terrorism and prejudice.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

Spiral Road

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