John Updike, old fart, is turning out to be no ally of modernity. Last week, he took to the podium at BookExpo and railed against the mere notion of making books digital.

Today, he tells the the Times about understanding a cuddly Islamic terrorist in his new book:

When Mr. Updike switched the protagonist’s religion to Islam, he explained, it was because he “thought he had something to say from the standpoint of a terrorist.”

He went on: “I think I felt I could understand the animosity and hatred which an Islamic believer would have for our system. Nobody’s trying to see it from that point of view. I guess I have stuck my neck out here in a number of ways, but that’s what writers are for, maybe.”

He laughed and added: “I sometimes think, ‘Why did I do this?’ I’m delving into what can be a very sore subject for some people. But when those shadows would cross my mind, I’d say, ‘They can’t ask for a more sympathetic and, in a way, more loving portrait of a terrorist.’ ”

Ahmad is lovable, or at least appealing; he’s in many ways the most moral and thoughtful character in the entire book, and he gains in vividness from being pictured in that familiar Updikean setting, the American high school….

“Terrorist” even includes some Koran passages in Arabic transliteration; Shady Nasser, a graduate student, helped Mr. Updike on those sections. “My conscience was pricked by the notion that I was putting into the book something that I can’t pronounce,” he said, but he added: “Arabic is very twisting, very beautiful. The call to prayer is quite haunting; it almost makes you a believer on the spot. My feeling was, ‘This is God’s language, and the fact that you don’t understand it means you don’t know enough about God.’ “

  • Jimmy

    John Updike, old far that he is, doesn’t like modern technology? Well, knock me over with a feather!

    As for the book: Updike hasn’t written anything good for well over a decade.

  • >>Ahmad is lovable, or at least appealing; he’s in many ways the most moral and thoughtful character in the entire book…

    Even serial murderers can have charm, a la Hannibal Lechter. But that doesn’t null their culpability. Having not read the book, I don’t know where this character’s hatred for “our system” came from. But how is this different from non-Islamic criminals we hear about every day, the ones murdering, peddling dope, robbing and raping? They have their own contempt for “our system,” even if it is not expressed in some “death to America” manifesto. And that’s not the “system’s” fault, is it? Is Updike trying to transfer blame?

  • Mike G

    Oh, gosh, how original. Nobody’s trying to see it from that point of view? I’d say the whole New York intellectual establishment is trying very hard not to see it from the real point of view of religious absolutists drunk on the glory of killing for God.

    Updike is the latest voice of the new Cliveden set.

  • Radical chic lives on.

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  • Although serial killer may be the charm, Hannibal Lechter. but there is no guilt. Not if you read the book, I do not know where this person System hate wine. But what is heard no different from the Islamic criminals every day, killing drugs.