three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The Unknown TerroristTwenty-something Gina Davies, known to friends as "the Doll" in her adoptive Sydney, Australia, has a dream: she’ll continue to work as a stripper only long enough to save $50,000—a down payment on a condo and a new future. A single night with a Muslim named Tariq leads to her connection to a terrorist organization and her branding as the country’s most wanted fugitive. With the help of Richard Cody, a television journalist (and one of the Doll’s customers), authorities close in on Australia’s latest cause célèbre. In a violent finale, Flanagan plumbs the depths of cynicism and fear in a post-9/11 world.
Grove. 336 pages. $24. ISBN: 0802118518

Oregonian 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The most searing and powerful book I have ever read about how our fears of terrorism are twisting and diminishing us in chilling fashion begins in ways that make you want to fling it across the room. … In this stunning and brilliant and roaring book [Flanagan] shouts the question loudly enough… : Is our own paranoia dragging us down faster than the coward in the cave could ever dream?" Brian Doyle

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] page-turning thriller worthy of John le Carré, with a plot so credible a reader might feel it’s nonfiction, except for a few too many coincidences. But even those can’t dampen the chilling effect of the story, written in a fresh, exhilarating prose style in which the author makes each sentence a small work of art." Skye K. Moody

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]f the focus of The Unknown Terrorist remains the contemporary world… it does just as dazzling a job of limning its subject, conjuring up the postmodern, post-sci-fi world of globalized terror and trade, where drugs and weapons and human beings are smuggled with equal brazenness across borders and oceans, and money and power flow back and forth between the legitimate and criminal worlds, unnoticed by the crowds clamoring for more bytes and pixels and bandwidth. … Mr. Flanagan’s vision seems to have darkened considerably since his last book." Michiko Kakutani

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Richard Flanagan’s fourth book is a bleak look at the post-9/11 world, where governments routinely raise the terror alert to create a sense of fear without any basis in fact. … When truth becomes a casualty of paranoia, Flanagan suggests, we may believe something tangible is being done to curb terror when really only innocents are being compromised." Vikram Johri

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Here is the vitally vicious Flanagan who can stop a reader’s breath. Unfortunately these grotesque grace notes are undermined by a hammeringly simplistic moral: We’re bad and we know this by the shabbiness of those who speak for us." Melvin Jules Bukiet

Critical Summary

Richard Flanagan’s stock-in-trade through four novels (Gould’s Book of Fish, Death of a River Guide, Sound of One Hand Clapping) has been intense, often surreal, set pieces. Such disconcerting snapshots drive The Unknown Terrorist to its inevitable conclusion. Flanagan’s latest effort turns a jaundiced eye on one city’s reaction to 9/11. The result is chilling and plausible. At least one reviewer criticized the book’s "simplistic moral"; to be sure, readers rarely doubt where Flanagan stands on the issues at hand. Still, The Unknown Terrorist is a powerful commentary on a society that, the author suggests, gorges itself on paranoia as readily as it seeks truth.