J is for JIHADI: A LOVE STORY



Guest Blogpost by Yusuf Toropov

It’s a pleasure, I think, to re-enter Richard Gibney’s strange, enlightening, more-than-occasionally awkward on-line world. This time around, Rich invited to participate in the J portion of the A to Z challenge on his website, which synchronizes nicely with my debut novel, just out from Orenda Books. Rich reviewed my debut novel here, in a rare moment of ongoing coherence.

Today, for reasons best known to himself, he has committed me to a real-time interview with one Gertrude Getemout. He informs me that she is a “senior adviser within the global Trump mission,” who has just logged on to Messenger. She is to be my interlocutor, apparently. Hello Ms. Getemout.  Ms. Getemout?

Hi. Late, sorry. Typing from the intensive care unit here at White People Only Hospital in Death Rattle, Arizona. Had a little accident with a Molotov cocktail during last night’s Kill-The-Immigrants event. The feeling is coming back into my fingers now, though, so I should be fine for this talk. Rich sent me your book but I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet. The cover seems a little scary. What’s the book about?

It’s about an American intelligence agent who’s accused of terrorism, and ends up dying in a secret overseas prison. The big question is: Was he innocent?

Hmm. Is he the good guy or the bad guy?

That’s one of the things we have to figure out.

Yeah but is he the good guy or the bad guy? I don’t like to have to wait too long to work something like that out.

Maybe once you read the book we can talk about it.

Has it been reviewed, this novel?

Yes, the reviews have been very exciting. Take a look.

No, I mean reviews that authenticate you personally as an acceptable writer of popular fiction. I mean reviews by the Trump organization or its allies confirming that you are someone it’s okay to sell in airports.

What do you mean, “okay to sell in airports”?

Well, with that first name, you have to wonder. I mean, don’t take this personally, but you’re not a Muslim, are you?

Yes, as a matter of fact I am.

What?

I said yes, I am a Muslim.

Where are you from?

You know, everybody asks me that.

Yeah, but where are you from?

I was born in California. Why?

And you’re a Muslim?

Yes.

On purpose?

Yes.

And you wrote a novel?

Yes.

In English?

Yes. Is that a problem?

And you got it published with an American publisher?

Orenda Books, my publisher, is headquartered in London. It’s a great company.

Ah. I see. But it is written in English? I mean, American English?

They made me change some of the spellings, and they messed with the quote marks, but yes, it’s an American book and I’m an American writer.

Weird things happen overseas. Why aren’t you in America now?

Maybe I like Ireland. Or maybe Mr. Trump doesn’t always make me feel at home.

Look, why do you want me to read this?

You know, I’m not so sure anymore.

Let me ask you this. Were your parents Muslim or did you become one when some sleeper cell recruited you?

I beg your pardon?

You know what I mean.

Do I?

Look, I just want to find out if you did this of your own free will.

Did what? Wrote the book?

No. Joined a death cult.

At this point I feel I should point out that I stopped being comfortable within this conversation some time ago, but yes, I became a Muslim of my own free will in 2003.

Uh huh. Did you have a handler?

A what?

You know. Someone who insulated you from the outside world during the whole brainwashing process.

No. I did not have a handler. Listen. Were you planning on asking me anything at all about my novel?

What’s it called again?

JIHADI: A LOVE STORY.

Now, why in the world would I want to read a book with a title like that?

Well, there are any number of reasons. Maybe you like literary fiction. Maybe you like thrillers that make you think. Maybe you’re interested in unusual love stories. Maybe you’re interested in learning how people can drift toward extremism, cancel out the humanity of others, and justify absolutely anything in the name of a cause. Maybe you want to get a better sense of what Yeats was talking about when he said, “All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.”

That Yeats guy sounds like a troublemaker. If I read your novel, is it going to make me want to become a jihadi?

Fascinating question. Let me answer it by posing a couple of my own. When you read FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, is it going to make you want to turn into a shade of grey? When you read THE GRAPES OF WRATH, is it going to make you want to become a grape?

Actually, I try not to read novels anymore. I find they confuse me.

Well, see. There’s the problem.

Maybe it’s not for me.

Maybe not. You can always find the book here, though, in case you ever do change your mind.

Oh, I don’t think that’s likely to happen.

You never know. Minds, like linen, do need changing now and then.


JIHADI features unreliable narration, and a brilliant central character, Theolonius Liddell, whose life experiences have resulted in both a need to excel and in mental illness. 

Another character suffers from inoperable brain cancer: The upshot is plenty of uncertainty and second guessing. Much of the beauty of the novel for the reader is trying to discern fact from fiction within the novel's narrative - although this great work operates on many levels, and the thrilling story can readily be taken at face value, and read again for all of the wonderful nuance, strong thematic resonances, and the incredible style. 

Buy it today at Amazon UK, US or elsewhere. Read it, and if you haven't, vote for it on Goodreads coz it's incredibobs!

Also, Yusuf will be appearing in London very soon. If you're in London around May the Fourth, be with Yusuf Toropov at literary events, or something!

Many thanks Yusuf!