Karan Mahajan, 32, is among the ten writers nominated for the prestigious National Book Award in the United States, according to an announcement made on September 15. The young Indian American author, born in Connecticut and once worked for the New York City government, tackles terrorism in New Delhi, the city where he spent the better part of his childhood, in his latest book, “The Association of Small Bombs.”
The book is about the members of a community that includes Hindus and Muslims, that juxtaposes the protagonists that include the Khurana family who lose their two sons to the bombing, and the terrorist, in the aftermath of a 1996 explosion.
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.
Exploring the minds of the characters and their lives after and before the fatal bomb, the book also examines the cynical reaction of the terrorist from Kashmir, Shockie, who sees his work as a job not well done.
This is Mahajan’s second book after “Family Planning,” which was more a social satire about a minister and his family made up of his wife and brood of 12 children. This second one is way beyond his first in terms of content, the approach, and the prose, according to the New Yorker which reviewed it Sept. 4.
“In the first few pages of his new novel, he renders the spectacle of the bombing with a languid, balletic beauty, pitting the unhurried composure of his prose against the violence of the events it describes,” notes reviewer Alexandria Schwartz of the New Yorker.
Karan Mahajan was born in 1984 and grew up in New Delhi, India. His first novel, Family Planning won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award and was a finalist for the International Dylan Thomas Prize. It was published in nine countries. Mahajan’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker Online, The Believer, NPR’s All Things Considered, The San Francisco Chronicle, Granta.com, Bookforum, Tehelka, and the anthology Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction. He currently lives in Austin, Texas.The Association of Small Bombs is his second novel.