Book Review: Jihadi Jane

Tabish Khair’s latest literary offering is a read for everyone

Tabish Khair’s latest literary offering is a read for everyone in the times that we live. These days, not a week doesn’t go by without a terror attack being reported. Lives are being ripped away mind-numbingly. And humanity is losing trust and faith, both. Fear is caging hearts and mind, all around. In the name of a religion? In the name of a merciful god? Or in the name of an ideology? Most of us don’t bother to give it a thought, beyond a RIP or some couch activism on social media. After all my family or my friends or anyone I knew closely did not get gunned down or blown apart. So is it even real? Hmm…. maybe. Maybe not. Really?

Most of us moderately open-minded rationalists would question the existence of fanatical religious radicalism. We nearly believe it happens elsewhere; not in our developed and developing countries. That is where Khair plots his novel subtly and intelligently.

Khair’s Jihadi Jane is the tale of two Muslim girls, Jamila and Ameena, born and educated in England. It is the tale of how religious emotion owing to the radical religious beliefs of Jamila’s father and brother led both the girls to embrace their religion in a way, which was more frenzy than faith. The girls exposed to the mosque groups, religious passion-evoking speeches on YouTube and the militia accounts on Facebook and Twitter are itching to contribute to the cause, especially Ameena who once used to be the pot-smoking, rule breaking non-practicing-Muslim.

They are mesmerized by an Internet preacher – Hejjiye who works in support of the men fighting in the name of jihad and believes that women have a very important role in their fight. Ameena and Jamila start believing in Hejjiye’s cause and run to join the fight in Syria. They leave behind their families and the their country, for they believe that it is for their faith. And their god. But is it?

Jamila narrates Jihadi Jane in first person as a recollection of memories. The book starts with school life of the girls in England, their poles apart upbringing, their connecting cord and steadily progresses towards the finish where Jamila is in Bali, narrating to the author. I am reading a book in first person after long; it was disconcerting at the start but the author builds up the impact, slow and steady. The book is like A.R. Rehman’s music. It takes time to connect but once it does it lingers on.

Jihadi Jane is a peek into the world of Jihad through the eyes of an insider, who still hides a steak of rationale. It questions the beliefs of the protagonists and tells a story, which is as terrifying as the times it talks of. Khair indulges the reader in different aspects of religious fanaticism from an insider’s view and pops up sane questions in a world going insane. A compassionately written, tightly edited story of our times.

Jihadi Jane is a fiction that tells the story of the terrible times we live in. A classic example of fiction reveals truths that reality obscures. A must-read.

Title: Jihadi Jane
AuthorTabish Khair
Publisher/ Imprint: Penguin Books
Pages: 216
Genre/ Sub-Genre: Fiction/ Drama
Rating: 4.00 of 5.00
Reviewed for: Publisher

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