John Updike: Terrorist

John Updike has made a career out of chronicling American culture. And he has no trouble conjuring up a young man who is repelled by it.That teenager, named Ahmad, is the central character of Updike’s novel, Terrorist, which is set in the changing immigrant neighborhoods of northern New Jersey.


I’m dealing with a fervent believer and his relationship with, among others, the imam of his mosque. And so you couldn’t write about such a person without bringing the Koran into it. More than most religions this is a religion of the book and there’s only one book, the Koran. So you can’t avoid quoting it. I was interested as I re-read it, how much hostility towards the non-believers, to exterminate non-believers. There are some verses you can quote for violence. But then every religion, except maybe Buddhism, has the seed of violence somewhere in it.

You can read an excerpt of Terrorist by John Updike on

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