Karan Mahajan’s novel The Association of Small Bombs begins with what seems to be a dramatic cliche: a tragic bombing in an Indian street market, a few main characters’ deaths, and a lot of tears. Yet the story does not follow the regular plotline of a drama. Instead, it focuses on the aftermath of the bombing, beginning with the reactions of Vikas and Deepa Khurana, the parents of two boys killed in the horrific tragedy. Over the course of the novel, grief permeates through their relationship and warps their personalities as the couple navigates through moments of artistic floundering, dishonesty, and unfaithfulness. Vikas is “...only happy when he [leaves] his house, shedding the yoke of this new life that [has] been thrust upon him.”
On the other hand, the novel recounts the stifling hatred of Shaukat “Shockie” Guru, the terrorist that sets off the fatal bomb, and the consequent chain of events that continue to occur twenty years after the explosion. The cool, calculating nature of Shockie’s violent undertaking is at once chilling and riveting. Shockie’s account describes the cycle of terror: the tragic events of his childhood which formed his cruel perspective of the world, prompting him to commit more tragedies that ultimately perpetrated his distorted ideas.
In addition, the theme of tragedy transforms the life of Mansoor, a friend of the Khurana boys that lived through the bombing that was their demise. At the core of Mansoor’s narrative is his faltering attempt to recover from the psychological effects of the bombing by turning to religion for answers. When Mansoor learns that he suffers from chronic injuries due to the bombing, he begins to contemplate the role of God and religion in determining fate and the way the world works. He says, “...I really do think God is watching, drawing his conclusions, doling out consequences.”
Mansoor’s religious zeal pits him against the ugly face of Islamophobia, which leads him into the company of Muslim activists striving for equal treatment of religious minorities in India. In particular, Ayub, the leader of the activists, conveys the difficulty of maintaining peaceful ideals when faced with intense religious prejudice. After a failed protest, Ayub thinks to himself, “The media [revels] in sex and violence---how [can] nonviolence, with its graying temples and wise posture, match up?”
The real appeal of The Association of Small Bombs is its careful depiction of current issues like terrorism and Islamophobia; by approaching these topics with multiple perspectives, Mahajan allows the reader to interpret the actions of the character without the sway of common stereotypes. Basically, it is the kind of book that demands to be analyzed and thought about, even weeks after finishing it.