First Book Club Discussion

Dear Pearl:

I apologize for the tardiness in sharing with you the feedback from our recent book club discussion – could it be we were really the first book club discussion you mentioned on your website?!  Well if so, kudos to you in crafting a novel of such measure that it will be enjoyed by mainstream leisure readers like us, as well as readers like the students of the terrorism course you mentioned. Your novel spurred the best discussion our club of fifteen women has yet experienced in sharing the chosen books over which we wine and dine.

Per your prediction, this group of women, nearly all mothers with children ranging in age from 11 to 26 years, shared a very contentious discussion about the novel, and quite frankly experienced more angst and disappointment with Barbara and Bill than disgust at John’s disillusionment about his journey that went awry.  Of course the blame we placed on John’s parents probably mirrors our criticisms of ourselves, how we all tend to raise children, “providing more and better” than the generation before us. Barbara and Bill did such a thorough job in raising John well and providing everything he wanted and of course that’s admirable parenting, a goal toward which each of the parents in this group strives.

John was a confident and thoughtful young adult, could easily apply himself and pursue important dreams and values. His skill set was such that his parents were ultimately empowering him to feel invincible in pursuit of a unique experience that rivals Burton’s (at least in John’s own mind).  Providing John with the privileges, freedom, and sought-after flexibility to create his own adventure ended in stripping Barbara and Bill of their well-rounded, energetic, educated son, a boy we’d all be proud to call to our own.  This topic upset most of the mothers in this group, making us anxious about how much we can give without creating spoiled children/adults whom we don’t want to lose to any cause, no matter how passionately the child feels about its importance. John’s age of 18 created debate too…a “man-child” responsible for his own choices and the resulting repurcussions, but, we asked, had he learned enough to know when enough was enough?

Athough John’s sensitivity and focused desire to immerse himself in every one of pursuits (surfing and al-Qaeda alike!) seem admirable and smart at first glance, we felt John was seduced on many levels and basically got carried away with what he set out to create as the best adventure he could conjure up prior to attendance at Brown University. He approached the Muslim/Islam/Pakistan summer trip as a great adventure, and though he did sincerely empathize with “the cause,” starting with his chat room discussions then on to the induction he experiences in New York, to his Pakistani training and hike to the Hadda Cave, we all agreed he never stopped believing that he was just on an adventurous quest and that he would ultimately go home to Barbara and then Brown, having come away from this journey all the wiser.  He was so sucked into his mission, and he was dedicated and passionate about it, but got in over his head. As you can imagine, each of us  conjured up a different ending to John’s adventure.


All in all, your novel was a huge hit with us, Pearl! Thank you for bringing us a book that provided a rich springboard for debate, raised cultural awareness, parenting questions, self-reflection, allowiing us to discuss typically taboo topics at a dinner party: religion and politics! Most of all, thank you for sharing with us the questions and reflection topics that we passed around the table (it even caught on fire at one point), for you made the evening a memorable one with American Taliban.

Best regards,
MJ Butz

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