Review: JIHADI A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov

With a fantastic opening purportedly penned by a recently deceased narrator and edited via running commentary by a secondary narrator, JIHADI: A Love Story is written by Yusuf Toropov.

The emotional intelligence of the main protagonist and the story itself are high on the list of pluses at the outset. Although many expectations are confounded throughout the story, the expectation of more confusion, while reading the opening pages, does not bear out. So if you find yourself asking: “What’s this about?”, just power on through the opening five pages. The quality of the writing will draw you in at the outset. But the plot is riveting, and it all starts to become fairly clear fairly quickly.

It’s one of those novels that merits a second read not because of its difficulty, but because of the prose's beauty. In terms of plot, there is so much to it that there are things you may miss the first time out. Among much else, readers may find they are reading the novel for its story, and then reading again for style or in search of thematic resonances.

Speaking of which, the themes here are terrific too, addressing the issues that academics sit up and look for in a text: Unreliable narrators, Feminism and Misogyny, Islam, the Other, Terrorism, and perhaps even societal decay all feature quite prominently.

Intelligence agents play politics and jostle for one-upmanship. Corruption is rife in what we could regard as the most stiflingly conservative of religious environments – a country where atrocities have been perpertrated by the West, and where retribution is sought both from Americans and those of more rational mindsets than the extremists. Yet it's all relayed with a non-judgmental eye.

Although he has lived through much of the story, Theolonius Liddle narrates with a warm objectivity, the ironic, poetic detachment perhaps a means of distancing himself from the tragic events depicted. It’s typical of a Modernist novel in some respects, tearing on the existentialist heartstrings without being overtly sentimental or heavy-handed. The metanarrative elements, meanwhile, are straight out of a postmodern playbook.

It's a wonderfully poetic read. A novel for our times.

JIHADI is released on Christmas Eve by Orenda Books. You'll find Yusuf Toropov's blog here.