Fore

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In the af­ter­math of ISIL-in­spired at­tacks, there are sto­ries we hear far too of­ten. Of young peo­ple grow­ing up in the West be­com­ing in­creas­ingly alien­ated, only find­ing a sense of their iden­tity in rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion.

Now that premise is the alarm­ing back­drop to Ira­nian-Amer­i­can au­thor Laleh Khadivi’s lat­est novel, the story of a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can teenager even­tu­ally se­duced by the dream of a Mus­lim caliphate.

Ini­tially, at least, the story of Rez Courdee is clas­sic com­ing of age stuff. He kicks against his con­ser­va­tive im­mi­grant par­ents. Look­ing for ac­cep­tance, he goes slightly off the rails as school comes to an end. But he’s a good guy at heart. Which is why what hap­pens next is so sad. There isn’t a spe­cific mo­ment which turns Courdee to­wards fun­da­men­tal­ism – in fact, he’s largely dis­mis­sive of his in­creas­ingly pi­ous friends. But Khadivi’s main ar­gu­ment is essen­tially that ter­ror­ist ac­tion in the West – in A Good Coun­try’s case, the Bos­ton bomb­ings of 2013 – breeds some­thing more last­ing than head­lines: it cre­ates in­tol­er­ance and prej­u­dice.

In the end, Courdee can’t han­dle the con­stant sus­pi­cion and lies. He finds a kind of kin­ship in peo­ple who feel the same way as him, some of whom twist that sen­ti­ment to­wards darker ter­ri­tory.

This is the third in Khadivi’s loose tril­ogy fol­low­ing one im­mi­grant fam­ily, and she clearly knows what she’s writ­ing about. But while the jour­ney to ji­had might start as in­nocu­ously as Courdee’s, in the wake of the Manch­ester at­tacks, it does make for un­easy read­ing; it would be all too straight­for­ward for the un­sym­pa­thetic to read A Good Coun­try as a warn­ing that rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion is lurk­ing be­neath the sur­face in all Mus­lims. Yet there is a sym­pa­thy for Courdee – like any other teenager, he’s bat­tling for mean­ing. It’s just that the life choices he’s forced to make can’t give him the good end­ing he de­serves.

Per­haps it would have been eas­ier for Khadivi to write that end­ing. The fact she doesn’t is brave, but in these height­ened times, it also feels ir­re­spon­si­ble: A Good Coun­try is a pow­er­ful and read­able book, but it as­sumes its read­ers will em­pathise. Sadly, they may not.

(Blooms­bury) is out now Dh39, from Ama­zon.com

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