Tuesday, May 18, 2010

'31 Hours'

by Masha Hamilton
Fiction, 2009
Unbridled Books, ebook, 229 p.
From Unbridled Books:
A woman in New York awakens knowing, as deeply as a mother’s blood can know, that her grown son is in danger. She has not heard from him in weeks. His name is Jonas. His girlfriend, Vic, doesn’t know what she has done wrong, but Jonas won’t answer his cell phone. We soon learn that Jonas is isolated in a safe-house apartment in New York City, pondering his conversion to Islam and his experiences training in Pakistan, preparing for the violent action he has been instructed to take in 31 hours. Jonas’s absence from the lives of those who love him causes a cascade of events, and as the novel moves through the streets and subways of New York we come to know intimately the lives of its characters. We also learn to feel deeply the connections and disconnections that occur between young people and their parents not only in this country but in the Middle East as well.

Carried by Hamilton’s highly-lauded prose, this story about the helplessness of those who cannot contact a beloved young man who is on a devastatingly confused path is compelling on the most human level. In our world, when a family loses track of an idealistic son an entire city could be in danger.
Masha Hamilton has written a completely believable, thrilling, tense story of an American homegrown suicide bomber. Terrorism is an ever present threat, and fact of life, nowadays, and as I try to put my thoughts together for this book, I can't help but think of how in less than a week I'll be in New York, perhaps riding the subway, or walking around Times Square, or visiting Ground Zero. It certainly adds a personal relevance to the story now as I think back on it.

However, this is not a simple story of Islamic fanaticism. On Masha Hamilton's website, you can read the 'story behind the book' in which she talks about worrying if it would even be possible for the reader to feel empathy for Jonas.  Well, I think she completely succeeded in portraying Jonas' confusion and the complexity of his thoughts and emotions. Just like in real life, things are rarely black and white. She delves into the person he was and what led him to the critical situation he now finds himself in. How one choice, or encounter, can lead to the next. And even though we hate what he has set out to do, she reveals his humanity. In fact, as he moves closer to the violent, we would say mistakenly idealistic, act he has been preparing for, I felt more and more invested in his story, and I felt frustration, and horror, and yes, compassion. Not only for him but for his family, and those who loved him, and all the others whose lives would be forever changed by his actions.

The story is written from multiple points of view, from Jonas' mother to the homeless man, a regular fixture in the New York subway. Hamilton brought all of the characters vividly to life, making the imminent disaster all the more terrifying and real. And hearing from these different perspectives helped to round out the story of this beloved son, lover, and stranger.
At twenty-one, separating from parents and establishing one’s individuality was a desired, even critical stage. “Differentiation” was the term, wasn’t it? She had to give him space, trust him. That’s what it meant to be the parent of a grown child. Well, screw differentiation. Screw psychobabble that blurred the particularities of Carol and her son and her mother-intuition. He’d always been so sensitive, before. He would never have wanted her to feel this scared, and if he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – pick up the phone to ease her anxiety now, that only proved it. Something was wrong.
I actually read this back in January yet, despite having read it almost 4 months ago, the story has stayed with me. A truly thought-provoking, haunting read.

My Rating: 4/5

Visit the dedicated 31 Hours site where you can watch the book trailer, read an excerpt, or find out where she's stopping on her book tour.
For more information on the writing of the book, check out her interview with LibraryThing.
For more information on the author and her world literacy programs, visit the Masha Hamilton website.

Thank you to Caitlin of Unbridled Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Buy 31 Hours at: Amazon.com | BookDepository.co.uk

Also reviewed by:
Bermudaonion's Weblog
Beth Fish Reads
Book Nook Club
Bookfoolery and Babble
Booking Mama
Linus's Blanket
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
S. Krishna's Books
She is too fond of books
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

The small print:  This ebook was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes.  
Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information please visit my About Page.


  1. I enjoyed this one as well. Like you said, it's a story that stays with you.

    Here's my review.

  2. This sounds really good. Another one for my list!

  3. I have heard really good things about this book!

  4. I was really drawn into this book and its many complexities. I am glad you liked it too.


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