Jihadi: A Love Story

Jihadi: A Love Story

by Yusuf Toropov


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910633311
Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication date: 05/01/2016
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Yusuf Toropov is an American Muslim writer. He’s the author or co-author of a number of nonfiction books, including Shakespeare for Beginners. His full-length play An Undivided Heart was selected for a workshop production at the National Playwrights Conference, and his one-act The Job Search was produced off-Broadway. Jihadi: A Love Story, which reached the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, is his first novel. Yusuf currently lives in Ireland, and often returns to his hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Read an Excerpt


A Love Story

By Yusuf Toropov

Orenda Books

Copyright © 2015 Brandon Toropov
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4956-2770-5


In Which the Terrorist Describes his Surroundings

ii. (lacuna! Almost missed my own index card on this, only saw it while reviewing materials on plane)

The next passage of the manuscript is, my notes remind me, marked 'Chapter One' in parentheses set within Liddell's ample margins. This faint but visible two-word notation, confirmed by personal evaluation of both the facsimile and the Luciteen-cased originals, does not appear in the otherwise faithful official transcript compiled by the Directorate. The attentive eye of an editor has been wanting! All ninety-nine of the terrorist's chapters are numbered, but no text from Liddell describes them.

I have supplied, or am in the process of supplying, all of the present chapter titles.

He tried not to write this book, but, as a dead guy, felt he had an obligation to do so. He owed her that.

He counts as a dead guy, even though his heart beats, his blood flows, and his mind races, six out of every seven days, within a ten-metre-by-ten-metre cell in the containment unit he calls The Beige Motel. He used to live in a place called Salem, Massachusetts. Now he lives here.

They pride themselves on consistency at The Beige Motel. They see to it that your fluorescent lights never go out. They make certain the brittle, E-flat hum of the place never varies. They follow a strict time scheme, confirmed daily by whether or not you have just been served scrambled eggs on Styrofoam. The plate of scrambled eggs is set on a tray that they place in a creaking, rotating compartment built right into your locked door. Scrambled eggs mean morning. Anything else means later.

He supposes they could switch things up and serve him scrambled eggs at dinnertime to mess with his sense of time. If they wanted, they could. They do mess with his sense of time. So far they have never done that, though.

He misses his wife.

Every seventh day he hears the door groan: Sunday. It opens, and someone leads him away. He inspects a soundproofed enclosure of linoleum and echoes called the Yard. In the Yard, he discusses world affairs with the other guests and reconfirms that morning remains morning by staring at a rectangular sheet of glass set so high into one wall that the place feels, to him, ever so slightly like a church. The glass is probably bulletproof. Only sky is visible through it.

He has concluded that this sheet of glass in the Yard's wall happens to have exactly the same length-to-width ratio as the nineteen leaves of blank paper AbdulKarim smuggles to him each week. Sometimes, when he is writing, he imagines he can see the gold of early dawn through the window in the Yard. He imagines this sheet, on which he now writes, as that impossibly high-mounted window. He imagines it has just lowered itself and opened for him. He imagines golden light, imagines flying toward it.

Whatever he actually sees through that big, inaccessible, rectangular window in the Yard – sleet or clouds or, lately, swirling dust – means a new week has begun. Ten hours into that week, his day has vanished, and he makes his way, escorted, back to his own little corner of the Beige Motel. There are two beds there, but no one lives in the tiny compartment with him. Strictly speaking, he doesn't live in it, either. He died months ago, or might as well have.

Somehow, he got on the bad side of a network of unjust institutions. These institutions interrogate people and make them disappear.

He just wrote, 'somehow'. But he knows how he got on their bad side, why he was interrogated when he arrived, why he will be interrogated again. It was because he spoke justice. When you do that, they say you are gone. When they say you are gone, you are gone; you're simply waiting around for a muscle in the middle of your chest to stop sending spurts of freshly oxygenated blood through your arteries. You are a dead guy in an orange jumpsuit, sitting in a room, patiently waiting for scrambled eggs, strolling one day out of seven among other patient dead guys in orange jumpsuits, who are also sitting in a room waiting for scrambled eggs. All of you are dead.

iii. patient dead guys

Liddell, as noted above, created this manuscript while confined at Bright Light. He did his work in a remote corner of that beige cell of his, during daily six-hour periods when the video surveillance system, more primitive than the American unit one would have preferred, was set to 'stationary' rather than 'scan'. This was meant to permit sleep for those who had earned it. He imagined he could elude our system of controls. Patient patient.

The dead guy telling this story remembers Fatima, in a gold headscarf, her weeping eyes wide, begging him to tell the truth.

iv. Fatima.

No comment. Yet. Haven't the energy. Need to nap. Errors likelier when tired. Note about control systems goes here?

(Continued) I still recall with a chuckle the first active Jihadi I interrogated at Bagram Air Force Base. The dusky, defiant Habibullah, an unreliable front-line informant, proved as taciturn with me as he had with his three previous interlocutors. I administered a series of peroneal strikes as he hung by both wrists from the sturdy ceiling of his questioning room (one area of my expertise is compliance blows). I later learned that a pack of imprudent, thrill-starved Green Berets imitated my technique and took turns delivering careless strikes to the limp, increasingly exhausted Habibullah. The story goes that they kept this up for twelve or fourteen hours (a statistically ineffective application), and found his cries of 'Allah! Allah!' amusing. Boys will be boys. True to his own wish, Habibullah passed away in captivity. A simple duty to circulate best practices compels me to record here that my avoidance of any paperwork connected with this episode spared the Directorate involvement in the (minor) legal flap and so forth that ensued stateside. A pasting error. But retain last sentence?

* * *

It isn't so much that he started writing this book in order to keep himself from going crazy, which is what AbdulKarim, who smuggles him paper in the Yard, always says. Everybody goes crazy somewhere down the line. Writing a book won't stop that. Writing a book can repay a debt, though. Writing a book can confirm one's guilt.

The dead guy telling this story remembers two human bodies of contrasting sizes, face down on busy Malaika Street. A spreading pool of mingled blood. The sound of an approaching siren. A gun in Thelonius's hand.

Thelonius made a promise, not to Fatima, but to himself. To cut through the bullshit. To plead guilty. The book does that. 'Hi, Becky,' he writes now.

The dead guy telling this story remembers redflowinghaired Becky recruiting him into the Directorate in 1992. Smiling green eyes from behind the barrier of her desk. His certainty that she would soon touch him. That she would take good care of him. That there was no shame in that. That there could be honour in being taken care of, a home in that. Becky came from a long line of caretakers. Her mother, Prudence, had been a caretaker. Prudence's husband had needed taking care of, too, having been raised by alcoholics.

Becky's caring, green eyes smiling at Thelonius. Making everything okay. He only killed people when specifically instructed to do so by the United States of America.

See how the small white milk carton on that breakfast tray is vibrating?


In Which Liddell Engages in Fashionable Howling

During the first hour of September 9, 2005, he showered, dressed, ate his breakfast in the middle of the night, gathered his things, stared out the window to make sure his limousine was there, and, after a suitable delay, climbed into the back. He enjoyed making the limousine wait, then making it hurry. He told the driver he preferred to do at least eighty on these predawn jaunts to Logan.

When his plane touched down in the Islamic Republic, nineteen hours later, Wafa A —, a twenty-one-year-old pregnant mother-to-be, had not yet begun her breakfast. Wafa happened to live in a disputed region of the Islamic Republic. She did not have an appetite. She was thinking about her sister Fatima.

Wafa reminded herself that she must call Fatima and congratulate her for being hired as a translator for the Bureau of Islamic Investigation. Wafa sat on a plastic lawn chair in an overgrown green area, at a bone-white plastic table she shared with her husband and mother-in-law, drinking tea with them in the sun, thinking this thought of reaching out to her sister Fatima, of warning her again about the dangers of working with men, when hundreds of tiny metal darts, their points tight and sharp as needles, tore into her flesh and the flesh of her unborn baby.

According to Wafa's husband, the tea drinkers heard a strange collapsing sound. Almost an inhalation.


Followed by screams. He turned in his chair, intending to see whatever it was that had made the odd noise, but never had the chance. He only heard the sound of metal projectiles finding their way, at high speed, into his body, leaving him in a state of shock.


There were not enough darts embedded in Wafa's husband's flesh to kill him. Nor was Wafa's mother-in-law hit by enough darts, in the necessary points, to lead to major organ damage or blood loss. Wafa, however, facing that wave head-on, strafed by that barrage of tiny darts, saw herself and her unborn, unnamed daughter shredded.

The miniature metal darts were called flechettes. Flechettes are less than an inch in length, about the size of a finishing nail. Pointed at the front, they carry four fins in the rear, designed to accelerate their speed. To the casual observer, they resemble small sporting darts.

On that warm, pleasant morning in the village of D —, seven thousand five hundred flechettes had been packed into a shell which was fired from a tank rolling behind a stand of trees near Wafa's home. The shell disintegrated in midair with that PLOOF sound, the sound of air sucking into itself.

The shell scattered its darts in a conical pattern over an area about nine hundred feet long and three hundred feet wide. Only about four feet of that three-hundred-foot-wide arc had disrupted the tea drinkers.

Flechettes are designed to maim and kill concealed enemy soldiers: soldiers hiding in dense vegetation, for instance. Flechettes will pierce a pine plank or a thin sheet of steel. Once they reach high velocity, they curve and hook into every available surface, including human flesh. When flechettes reach maximum speed, they travel with such force that sometimes only the fins at the back are left sticking out from walls.

At the moment Wafa and her unborn child were being peppered with flechettes, Thelonius Liddell was not yet ready to deplane. His aircraft was coasting to a stop on a runway no one was supposed to know about. He was reading, scribbling in the margins of a long briefing about his mission in the Islamic Republic. Thelonius, uncertain about this mission and preoccupied with it, read his brief for the third time. He found something in it unpersuasive, and suspected it contained factual errors.

A few miles away, Wafa and her daughter were preoccupied with dying.

As Wafa died, another shell from another tank penetrated the room where laughing Hassan D., aged two and a half, sat with his taciturn eight-year-old brother, whose given name will not be repeated here.

Their father, Atta D., an attentive man, had spotted two American soldiers on a hillside, gathered up both boys, and escorted them inside for safety's sake. When Thelonius Liddell's unnumbered plane touched down on its unnamed runway in support of its classified mission, Atta's boys were preoccupied with learning a new board game. Atta was teaching this game to them when he noticed a large hole in the side of his home.

The shell that made that hole in Atta's home disintegrated and released its own thousands of flechettes, hooking into the toddler, his brother, and his father.


Little Hassan, who resembled his late mother, was the closest person to the brand-new hole in the wall. Despite being the smallest one in the room, he accumulated the largest number of flechettes. Hassan, who was Atta's favourite, was preoccupied with dying, too.

Of the three, Atta, the father, took the fewest hooks. None of his flechettes was fatal.

Much later, investigators from the United Nations examined the bloody wall near which Hassan was killed. They noted that it was studded with flechettes, but that there were some blank spots. Some of the investigators conjectured that these blank spots on the wall corresponded to the positions of the two boys as they had crouched on the floor.

The game they had been playing there was called Sorry!

Sorry! is an American board game adapted from something Muslims invented and started playing in about the year 1400. Sorry! was first sold in 1940 by Parker Brothers, a company based in Salem, Massachusetts.

v. Sorry!

And awake. Here, the first of many fatal discrepancies. There are scores, hundreds of examples of Liddell's clinical disregard for plain fact from which to choose, but the one offered here, his embarrassingly verifiable ignorance of the datum that the British version of the board game Sorry! was patented in 1929 and marketed in the UK under that title the following year, is worth examining closely. Sorry! was first sold, under licence, in the United States in 1934 – not 1940, as Liddell claims. On such slips empires fall. The sheer volume of such factual errors in the manuscript, many of which take the form of seditious libel, gives rise to a host of grave security concerns. Note that Liddell used verifiable names for all his main characters, and then, lacking internet access, simply made up whatever information he could not research properly in captivity. I operate under no such constraints. This telling Sorry! slip is brought to you by our Wi-Fi-enabled Motel 6, to which we are warming. Here, inexhaustible white stacked sugar packets attempt to atone for the execrable coffee. Clean white sheets, clean white sink, postcard-perfect view of the pool: loving shades of aquamarine and deep blue, colours Mother favored.

At the moment Thelonius's plane landed, sixteen-year-old Islam D., Atta's third son, was walking home from a friend's house. Islam knew the road well and was staring into space, not attending to where he was going. He was preoccupied. Focused as he was on the physical beauty of the female human form, he did not hear the PLOOF or notice any of the nearby tanks.

Islam happened to be standing at the very furthest edge of a vast wave of incoming metal projectiles. At the moment he was struck by his flechette, he was thinking of a pretty girl he liked. That girl was Fatima A —, Wafa's sister, the one who had just gotten that job at the Bureau of Islamic Investigation. She had visited yesterday. Islam had seen her. He had never spoken to her.

Fatima was out of Islam's league and he knew it, but he liked thinking about her just the same. He'd been thinking about her a great deal lately. The very last thought he had before getting hit by his flechette took the form of a question mark and an exclamation point about Fatima.

Islam had posed a question to himself, and answered it for himself, in less than a hundredth of a second. The question concerned the quality and placement of Fatima's hair. Because she wore a headscarf, usually gold, Islam had never seen it. That was the question mark.

vi. Islam

Presumably Islam Deen, eldest son of a known terrorist leader. Liddell's straight-faced claim to have insights into this (dead) young man's amorous longings during his final moments suggest the scale of his, Liddell's, broadening problems with schizophrenia.

Islam imagined Fatima's hair as fine and silky, straight black and very long, extending down to the precise midpoint of her back. He imagined a small mole on the small of Fatima's back, just below the point where her hair stopped. That was the exclamation point. He happened to be right about all of that, which was remarkable.

In Islam's case, there was only one wound. A single flechette struck a vulnerable spot in his neck. He began the process of bleeding out from a tear in his jugular vein, which takes less time than you might think. Within just a couple of minutes, Islam was preoccupied with dying, too.

There was something different about this mission. Something wrong with it. Thelonius couldn't quite put a finger on what it was. He got off his plane.


In Which Liddell Hallucinates

On the morning of October 14, 2005, Thelonius Liddell, having just returned from the last overseas assignment of his career, noticed that the milk carton on his dining-room table was vibrating.

This was forty-three years, three months, and seven days after Thelonius Liddell was born – thirty-six days after the unpleasantness with the flechettes – and exactly two months before he would be escorted into the Beige Motel.

Thelonius tried not to think about why a gallon of milk would be vibrating all by itself.


Excerpted from Jihadi by Yusuf Toropov. Copyright © 2015 Brandon Toropov. Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
From the Desk of R.L. Firestone,
1 In Which the Terrorist Describes his Surroundings,
2 In Which Liddell Engages in Fashionable Howling,
3 In Which Liddell Hallucinates,
4 In Which Victory Is Defined,
5 In Which the American Embassy Is Very Nearly Stormed by a Mob of Terrorists and Terrorist Sympathizers,
6 In Which Liddell Provides Inappropriate Biographical Detail,
7 In Which the Reader Is Assumed to Have Access to a Track List,
8 In Which Liddell Abuses Certain Confidences,
9 In Which Liddell Turns Down the Chance of a Lifetime,
10 In Which Liddell Falls Prey to a Characteristic Fit of Blind Rage,
11 In Which Liddell Continues a Pattern of Deliberate Obfuscation,
12 In Which the White Album Cues Itself Up,
13 Does the 9/11 Thing Go Here?,
14 In Which Liddell Fabricates an Interview,
15 In Which Liddell Has a Nervous Breakdown,
16 In Which the Bitch First Encounters Liddell,
17 In Which Liddell First Covets Her,
18 In Which a National Hero Is Slandered Yet Again,
19 In Which a Sexual Motive Is Confirmed beyond All Reasonable Doubt,
20 In Which the White Album Identifies the Leader of the Oldburgh Terrorist Cell,
21 In Which the White Album Arraigns and Convicts a Murderous Oldburgh 'Poet',
22 In Which the White Album Unmasks Another Conspirator,
23 In Which the White Album's Second Side Begins,
24 In Which the Guns Continue To Warm,
25 Important Reminder,
26 In Which Our Song Is Played Repeatedly, and T Spends His Days in Isolation,
27 In Which Liddell Is Strapped Up,
28 In Which the White Album Indicates a Necessity,
29 In Which I Make No Notes,
30 In Which Liddell Is Force-Fed,
31 In Which Material Related to National Security Does Not Appear, the Manuscript Becomes Quite Tedious Indeed, and the Time and Attention of My Colleagues Is Better Invested Elsewhere,
32 In Which I Interrogate Clive,
33 In Which Liddell Finally Experiences Regret,
34 In Which 'Fajr' Is Defined,
35 In Which I Stand with Difficulty,
36 In Which I Experience a Period of Great Restlessness,
37 In Which the Restlessness Continues, and Nothing of Consequence Appears in the Manuscript until Quite Late in the Chapter,
38 In Which I Wonder Whether I Have Finally Caught a Break,
39 In Which You Object to an Insult,
40 In Which I Wait,
41 In Which the Clock Reads 5:00,
42 5:08,
43 In Which I Do Catch a Break,
44 In Which Paul McCartney Celebrates His Birthday,
45 In Which the Bassist Steps Up,
46 In Which Ringo Starr's Petulance Is Checked,
47 In Which I Recall Barry Goldwater's Moment of Glory,
48 In Which a Brutal Edit Evokes a Critical Passage from the Gospel of John,
49 In Which the Band Celebrates,
50 Rishikesh,
51 Postcards from India,
52 John Triumphant,
53 Maharishi,
54 White Metal,
55 The Bottomless Pit,
56 Cold and Hot,
57 A Message to Comfort the Faithful,
58 Something about Time Running Out,
59 Certain Obscure Pronoun References in Track Twenty-Four Clarified,
60 The Third Side Concludes, the Fourth Side Begins,
61 Lennon's Demand,
62 Hips Still Killing Me,
63 Wait a Minute,
64 Keep Typing,
65 Whatever,
66 Two Rotten Teeth,
67 Revelation 9:9,
68 all right,
About the Author,

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