- Hardcover: 228 pages
- Publisher: MACMILLAN USA (9 October 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374164703
- ISBN-13: 978-0374164706
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.3 x 23.2 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 169,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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GODSEND Hardcover – 9 Oct 2018
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Named a Best Book of 2018 by The Wall Street Journal, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, and Oprah.com
"[Godsend] becomes much stranger and more original after it arrives in Pakistan, discovering within itself a profound understanding of the demands of religious practice--of religious submission, especially--which has eluded almost every serious contemporary American novelist since 9/11. It is not only Wray's heroine but also his novel that comes of age, steadily deepening and astounding as it develops . . . The novel exhibits the reportorial authority you might expect, with a command of detail, context, and pace reminiscent of a reality-brined adventurer like Graham Greene or Robert Stone." --James Wood, The New Yorker
"John Wray's lean, bristling novel is filled with startling transformations The teenage girl at its center disguises herself as a man and leaves the suburbs of California for the Taliban army in Afghanistan. Yet the most unsettling change is the way it shifts the reader's perspectives on Sept. 11 and the war on terror." --The Wall Street Journal (Best Books of 2018)
"A furious narrative momentum carries the story to its devastating conclusion . . . Rawly unsentimental but illuminated throughout by a subtle compassion, Godsend is a novel of enormous emotional intelligence which makes for compelling and consistently unpredictable reading." --Robin Yassin-Kassab, The Guardian
"None of the Anglophone post-9/11 novels have been as ingeniously involved with the question of conversion to Islam and with the determination to take one's acquired belief into the realm of violence as John Wray's new novel, Godsend . . . He does an outstanding job in depicting a protagonist who has studied Islamic theology with a mix of avidity and simplicity, has taken the lessons of Qur'anic verses to heart without having matured enough to approach faith seriously . . . The novel's highest achievement is to show how each one of her insights is nothing but an illusion." --Amir Khadem, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Brilliantly executed . . . Mr. Wray's novel is on one hand an entirely familiar story of youthful rebellion and on the other an unimaginable depiction of a cold-blooded killer groomed by the world's most notorious army. Such tensions make Godsend relentlessly gripping." --Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Mesmerizing . . . A significant literary performance . . . Godsend builds to a shattering, balefully vivid ending. Aden survives to walk through a minefield--or is it a graveyard?" --Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"[Godsend is] a book that has no right to work at all, but Wray's storytelling is so taut, his prose so laser-etched, his psychology so audacious, and his wisdom so much the opposite of conventional, that it ends up working brilliantly." --Jonathan Franzen, The Guardian (Best Books of 2018)
"John Wray conjures up an extraordinary character Aden Sawyer, Californian girl, pre-9/11 Muslim convert, cross-dressing imposter, Pakistani madrassa student and, finally, Taliban militant in post-9/11 Afghanistan . . . With a novelist's perception, Wray sees through jihadism's political garb . . . Wray's own prose is perfectly pitched. He assumes an idiom seemingly native to Afghanistan . . . [that] grounds Godsend in its surroundings as surely as describing caves of pink granite." --Tanjil Rashid, Financial Times
"Wray's audacious fiction is clearly steeped in painstaking research, offering a devastating portrayal of the Taliban while finding a place of compassion for his profoundly misguided protagonists . . . The feat Wray pulls off is to seek understanding without ever becoming sentimental." --Dawn Raffel, Oprah (Best Books to Give Your Friends)
"Wray regulates the excitement levels, from tense to explosive, with a sure hand for narrative momentum . . . Wray's prose is hard, clipped and precise, a hammer to move this grim story forward. Yet it can expand into something like Hemingwayesque eloquence in describing the terrain that opens its arms to Aden . . . [Godsend is] a work of great power, seamlessly elucidating the seductions of faith and violence." --Dan Cryer, SF Gate
"[A] disturbing image of disaffected youth and the lures of extremism." --Publishers Weekly
"I've just spent every spare moment in a fever heat reading Godsend, and I'm truly dazzled by its daring literal and psychological border-crossings, its tonal complexity, and its pitiless compassion. Nothing is foreign to John Wray's imagination. I hope I can write half as fearlessly one day." --Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Swamplandia!
"John Wray is making a place for himself among our greatest living writers. Godsend is a wonder to me: a fearless book about a terrifying subject. The elegance and daring of this novel left me dizzy." --Akhil Sharma, author of Family Life
"This novel crosses lines that fiction should, stretching the imagination from suburban California to a jihadi training camp in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. Wray's taut prose propels a gripping narrative that stands head and shoulders above most fiction about America's war on terror." --Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears
"This is a great book about a time and a place that I lived through. I was nostalgic, reading Godsend, for the days when I was a young girl in Afghanistan, going to the madrasa with my friends. This came as a surprise to me. But there was beauty in that life. And there is beauty in this story." --Shamila Kohestani, recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award
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We do know this—she is the daughter of a mother who is an alcoholic and a philandering Islam scholar father who is an Islam scholar and is seeking a connection to—something. As a result, not unlike Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, she disguises herself as a boy and flies to Pakistan with a would-be boyfriend to immerse herself in the study of Islam.
It is the suffering and the sacrificial glory that attracts her the most. Early on, a mullah sees right through her: “The faith I follow is one that raises humility above all other virtues…And there is no humility in the righteous self-love of the mujahid. There is no modesty in it no denial of desire, no compassion, no restraint. But of course, such virtues hold no attraction for the young. Especially those for whom war is but a fairy story. To such young men inaction is the greatest of sins.”
We know—or believe we know—where this story is headed: the zeal of the “true believer”, the uncompromising view of the world, the military training, followed by either the abnegation of self or mounting disillusionment. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could all become overly predictable particularly with its gender-swapping plot. But John Wray is a fine writer and does not fall into the usual pitfalls.
Mr. Wray has obviously done quite a lot of research into the theology as well as the allures of this complex religion and scenes and dialogue unfold organically. His desire to provide an authentic reckoning sometimes gets in the way of forward momentum. Without a clearer understanding of Aden’s motivations and back story, it is difficult to fully understand her immersion into this fundamentalist sect. As she increasingly becomes involved in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border fighting, we lose remaining threads of the character’s interiority. All in all, this is a fine, if restrained book that once again pays testimony to John Wray’s immense talent.
Aden Sawyer, the 18 year old daughter of a professor of Islamic studies and an alcoholic mother, resides in a California college town. She wants desperately to leave her family and hometown and travel to the Middle East. Her father, who has left Aden's mother for another woman, has not paid much attention to Aden for some time and does not realize how enamored she is of Islam. She has recently shaved off all her hair, dresses in a white shalwar kameez and sees herself as "not a girl, not a boy. Just a ghost in a body". Her father thinks she will be travelling to Dubai or the Emirates to study but that is not what Aden has in mind.
She dreams of travelling to Pakistan, perhaps even Afghanistan, to participate in Jihad and become a holy apostle of Islam. She has been attending a local mosque and studying Arabic. "No language on earth was more beautiful to look at, more beautiful to speak." While her father saw only the beauty in it, Aden saw "the suffering brought to bear on every calligraph. But beauty was its first attribute and the most dangerous by far. The beauty of austerity. The beauty of no quarter. She felt its pull and saw no earthly end to it."
Aden disguises herself as a man because she realizes that, as a woman in a Muslim culture, she would not be able to experience any of the things that have become her passion. Along with Decker, her on and off boyfriend, she leaves the United States on a journey that will take their bodies and souls to places they have never even imagined. Armed with her holy beliefs and Qur'an, sometimes even a weapon, she studies her chosen religion and changes her name to Suleyman Al-Na'ama. She learns that "the word jihad was often used but never in the sense of inner struggle."
Usually, I find it difficult to suspend belief in certain situations. For instance, how did Aden hide her gender over time? Even with her breasts bound, wouldn't the signs of womanhood betray her? Wouldn't Decker slip and give away Aden's past identity? Despite my questions, I was caught up in the narrative. The author had me from the first page which begins with Aden's letter to her father; "You said I'd never make it to this place. And here I am."
As Suleyman becomes one with her chosen life, I was with her. Sometimes I felt like she was lost and at other times I felt like she had found herself. I realized that there are no absolutes except life and death and even those definitions could lead one to gray areas. In effect, I often asked myself who she was: Aden or Suleyman; apostate or true believer; foreigner or finally home.