Book Review: Associating between good and evil

(Karan Mahajan)

Tragedies are never planned. The victims of tragedies can never prepare for either the loss of a loved one or the loss of a part of their identity.

There are also people who are the causes of these tragedies.

In “An Association of Small Bombs,” author Karan Mahajan tells the gripping story of the effect of the detonation of a small bomb in 1996 on a grieving couple, a young boy and the man who placed the bomb.

The novel follows these people in the years after the explosion and how such a small act of violence can change the way someone sees the world, as well as themselves.

Mansoor is a young Muslim boy who went on a trip to the bazaar with his two friends, when suddenly, a small handmade bomb exploded inches away. The bomb instantly killed his two friends and in a state of shock, Mansoor ran from the scene and walked himself to the nearest clinic.

The explosion resulted in nerve damage in the 12-year-old’s hands and a lifetime of regret. Mansoor struggles throughout the entire novel with why he lived and his friends didn’t.

Those two friends, Tushar and Nakul, were brothers and the only children of Vikas and Deepa Khurana. The Khuranas fluctuate between two mental states – one in happiness and the other in depression.

Mahajan explores the human response to tragedy. Vikas fell into a spiraling depression which strained his marriage. He coped with his grief by helping other families who had been affected by small bombings.

The book is a remarkable example of a positive grieving process. Turning a negative into a positive is a skill not many have. Vikas is a flawed character and when he uses his experience to help others, his story becomes full circle. It really does prove that everything happens for a reason.

Then there is the man who caused it all, Shookie, who was part of a radical group that set off bombs to protest India’s political leadership.

It is clear that while Shookie no longer feels any guilt over the lives he has taken. However, readers learn his good friend took the blame for the 1996 bombing.

The novel also introduces a man who wants to join a terrorist group. Ayub, who once prided himself on religious healing, turned to Shookie for help to bomb a market. The lack of response from his peaceful protests had forced him to join a terrorist group.

Mahajan teaches that if a person doesn’t experience devastation first hand, then they will never understand the pain of losing something important. Ayub’s justification for setting off a bomb is to show that pain cannot be taught, but shown.

I personally enjoy expanding my global perspective via non-fiction literature. The medium sheds a light on individual stories. It is important during these massive tragedies that we do not look at the collective but the individual. 

What I believe makes a good book is the level of plot and character immersion and I fully believe Mahajan accomplishes this.     

The novel questions a person’s morality – what people do to make a statement. Has society blocked out simple protests? Will it only answer to violence?

The healing process is a journey, which the book ponders. Even though tragedies occur every day, life still goes on.   

The characters in the novel are all forced to realize that they should not associate their present actions with a tragic past, and that it can only lead to more pain.

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