Friday, December 16, 2011

Review of I'm Not Muhammad

I'm Not Muhammad attempts to show what it is like to be a Muslim in post-9/11 America. Based on what I have gleaned from reading non-fiction books on the Middle East, author Jason Trask's details seem to be quite accurate.

Yusuf Alsawari is a devout Muslim and a native-born American living in New York City with his wife, Ruth. The crisis begins when at her mother's deathbed Ruth declares herself a born-again Christian, renouncing Islam. Yusuf is mortified and decides to leave her. The World Trade Center attacks provide a seemingly good cover for him to simply disappear, pretending to have perished in the rubble. He re-emerges as Muhammad Muhammad, determined to lead a new life.

But then he is kidnapped--hooded, whisked away, and imprisoned without explanation. As an Arab he is automatically suspect, though no one tells him what crime he is thought to have committed as Muhammad Muhammad. Meanwhile, no one misses him because Yusuf is presumed to be dead. Despite his protestations that "I'm not Muhammad," he is placed in a jumpsuit for days on end, not even allowed to use a toilet. The consequences are described in cringe-worthy detail several times, whereas once would have served well enough.

Yusuf's imprisonment without trial forms the core of the story. Will he remain a prisoner forever? Will he ever see Ruth again? What will happen to his faith in Allah?

Jason Trask's novel is well-written and well-researched, and offers a useful glimpse into Islam and some of the darker corners of American security. There are, though, a couple of problems with the story. A good fictional struggle should have both a protagonist and an antagonist where there is some hope for a fair fight. Here the antagonist is an impersonal, crushing system represented by no one in particular, and Yusuf never has a chance. His only hope is that Allah will rescue him. The other problem is that the resolution comes too soon. For the last ten percent of the novel, the tension is gone.

1 comment:

Helen Ginger said...

I haven't read the book, but I do like the way you analyzed the story. Thanks Bob.