Inspired by the story of John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, Whiting Award-winning author John Wray explores the circumstances that could impel a young American to abandon identity and home to become an Islamist militant.
Indecently unconventional ... begins like a recognizable combination of bildungsroman and adventure tale, becomes much stranger and more original...discovering within itself a profound understanding of the demands of religious practice. It is not only Wray’s heroine but also his novel that comes of age, steadily deepening and astounding as it develops ... a command of detail, context, and pace reminiscent of a reality-brined adventurer like Graham Greene or Robert Stone. (Hardly a negligible achievement, by the way.) ... develops enough hospitality toward the religious submission it describes that it begins to take on the properties of its material: it becomes a kind of devout inhabiting ... a literary endeavor suggestively and boldly out of step with most contemporary literary impulses, and certainly with mainstream political ones.
Serious, sober and frequently mesmerizing ... spare yet supple prose ... contains some very adept writing about theology and religious feeling ... manages to nearly always hold a skeptical reader rapt...a significant literary performance. This novel’s contents are under enormous pressure ... There are no blood clots of showily displayed research to block this novel’s arteries.
Wray undermines his promising premise with a detached style ... the narrative tumbles to a rapid, unsettled conclusion. Wray provides only delayed, incomplete descriptions of the story’s traumatic events; his skimming past powerful emotions will keep readers from developing strong connections to his characters. Nevertheless, Wray communicates a disturbing image of disaffected youth and the lures of extremism.