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Karan Mahajan

The Association of Small Bombs

Viking

2017 Fiction

The Association of Small Bombs
Karan Mahajan was born in Stamford, Connecticut and grew up in New Delhi. When he was 12, Kashmiri separatists set off a car bomb in a market a few miles from his home. At 17, Mahajan enrolled at Stanford University, where he studied English and economics. A week before he arrived, the September 11 hijackers brought down the World Trade Towers and took close to 3,000 lives.

The second event triggered Mahajan’s memories of the first, a largely forgotten attack at the Lajpat Nagar market, where Mahajan’s grandmother had been shopping for yarn the day before the blast killed 13 and injured 30. From these concussive beginnings, Mahajan traveled, researched and put years of writing into building his second novel, The Association of Small Bombs.

It centers on a 1996 car bomb blast in the Lajpat Nagar market and its aftermath. The detonation, chapter zero, catches three young, cricket-playing boys who are out fetching a television from a repair shop. Hindu brothers Kushar and Nakul Khurana die instantly, but their Muslim friend Mansoor Ahmed, 12, survives. The book follows the parental grief of the Khuranas and the coming of age of Mansoor, whose injuries gradually ruin him. All along, the fates of the Kashmiri terrorists radiate from the same bomb, whose consequences attract a charismatic young Delhi activist. He finds Mansoor.

“This is what it felt like to be a bomb,” Mahajan writes. “You were coiled up, majestic with blackness, unaware that the universe outside you existed, and then a wire snapped and ripped open your eyelids all the way around and you had a vision of the world in 360 degrees, and everything in your purview was doomed by seeing.”

In voluptuous, class-astute writing, the novel attracted much praise. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson wrote that it has “the sweep, wisdom and sensibility of the [Russian] masters. Here is the humor of Bulgakov and the heart of Pasternak.” Anisfield-Wolf winner Kevin Powers called it “an utterly brilliant book.”

The New York Times called The Association of Small Bombs one of ten best titles of 2016, and Flavorwire named it a sign of hope for the culture.

Mahajan’s first novel, Family Planning, a comic debut about a New Delhi urban planner with 13 children, was translated into nine languages. Its author, who has read all of Kurt Cobain’s journals, is a critic, essayist and editor. He earned degrees from Stanford and the Michener Center for Writers. He lives and teaches in Austin, Texas.

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Blog Posts about Karan Mahajan

LISTEN: Karan Mahajan Interviewed On Professional Book Nerds Podcast

At the tail end of Cleveland Book Week, Adam Sockel and Jill Grunenwald, hosts of the "Professional Book Nerds" podcast, interviewed Karan Mahajan, our 2017 co-winner for fiction. Their conversation centered on Mahajan's award-winning "The Association of Small Bombs," the difficulties of writing about terrorism, and the proliferation of books on the subject after 9/11. The podcast is a production of OverDrive, the leading app for eBooks and audiobooks available through public libraries and schools, headquartered in Cleveland. In the weekly... Read More →

That's A Wrap! Cleveland Book Week 2017, From Cover To Cover

From left to right: Cleveland Foundation President Ronn Richard, Peter Ho Davies, Tyehimba Jess, Isabel Allende, Ansfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove, Margot Lee Shetterly, Karan Mahajan, Anisfield-Wolf Jury chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. Photo by Robert Muller. Last week we celebrated Cleveland Book Week, a series of book and literacy-themed events surrounding the 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. From September 5-9, community events across Greater Cleveland honored this year’s Anisfield-Wolf winners and celebrated all things literary in our... Read More →

REVIEW: Karan Mahajan's "The Association of Small Bombs"

by Charles Ellenbogen This Anisfield-Wolf award winner is absolutely stunning. From its riveting opening pages until the truth of its conclusion, Karan Mahajan takes us through a stunning story of small bombs, both the ones used by terrorists and the ones encountered in everyday life. I think what’s new here is that Mahajan, as the perfectly designed cover demonstrates, connects the bombs in ways we rarely get access to, let alone appreciate. What’s also new and both bold and necessary is that Mahajan takes us inside the lives of these... Read More →

Introducing Our Class Of 2017

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 82nd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2017 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are: • Isabel Allende, Lifetime Achievement • Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes, Fiction • Tyehimba Jess, Olio, Poetry • Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs, Fiction • Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures, Nonfiction “The new Anisfield-Wolf winners broaden our insights on race and diversity,” said... Read More →
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