Mahajan's novel, a National Book Award finalist, opens in 1996 in Delhi. A group of Kashmiri terrorists are planning to detonate a bomb in a busy market in the crowded city, protesting India's policies in Kashmir. These men are amateurish in their planning and execution, revealing petty issues within their group; there are jealousies and a pecking order. They are not radicalized terrorists, other than hating the chief minister, Narendra Modi, they don't have a coherent focus. They were inspired by the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Despite poor planning and some buffoonish behavior, they manage to detonate a small bomb which kills 13 people.
Among those who died in the attack are two young Hindu boys, sons of Deepa and Vikas Khurana. A Muslim friend who was at the market with them manages to escape, but is badly injured. Thus begins the story of the aftermath of the bombing and the psychological toll it took on the young boy, Mansoor, his family and the family of the dead brothers. The effect of the stress and trauma is relentless on these characters. Mansoor attends university in America, but after 9/11, his parents want him home, worried about anti-Muslim sentiment in the States. Back home, Mansoor becomes involved with a group of non-violent students who are trying to help wrongly jailed men who are victims of police brutality and corruption. One friend he makes there, Ayub, changes Mansoor forever. Meanwhile, Mansoor's parents form a group which they call the association of small bombs to help and give support to victims of terrorist bombings.
The effect of their sons' deaths on Deepa and Vikas was disastrous to their relationship. Each retreats to their own internal world. "Vikas felt he understood the bomb. It was part of his world." Meanwhile Deepa begins a half-hearted affair, that eventually fizzles out for lack of real passion.
While the subject matter of the novel is very serious, Mahajan paces his writing perfectly, with moments of comic relief and the vagaries of everyday life. His writing is brilliant at times, and his descriptions of the aftermath of the bombing is masterful. His characters, both good and bad, are revealed as real people with all their worries and foibles and suffering. Things are not black and white, there are many shades of gray. Mahajan's writing is influenced by his own experiences.
I enjoyed this book and felt it helped the reader understand both victims and activists. I recommend it to all readers. There is much food for thought within.