The Association of Small Bombs

A small bomb, in a busy Indian market. Among its victims are two young boys, among the survivors their friend. From there we look beyond the physical impact of the bomb to the emotional ‘collateral damage’ on the boy’s parents, Mansoor the survivor and Shockie the bomb maker and terrorist and some other supporting cast.


This book by Karan Marhajan featured in many end of year lists for 2016, so I was really looking forward to reading it. I’m still not entirely sure how much I enjoyed it, or if I was giving it a ranking on Goodreads, what that might be.

Its not a very long novel, but I read it in two large chunks, separated by over a week, due to life impinging on reading time. Whether this impacted on my enjoyment of the book I’m not sure. I enjoyed it. Its wonderfully written. It held my attention. It just lacked a little something I think.

There are big themes. Is there any such thing as a small bomb? Taking one life or 1000 lives? Either is a huge event in the lives of so many people. What are the motivations of terrorists? This gets explored.

My take on it is that the author, even by the title, deliberately diminished the notion of a terrorist act as being something almost mundane (once the threat becomes almost normalised). The bomb is considered a small bomb. The type that gets very little coverage in the modern world. It all takes place in New Delhi, which maybe adds to this notion for western readers to whom bombs in the East don’t create the same social media outpouring of grief or empathy that terrorist attacks in Europe or North America do.

There is a sadness that runs through this book. Or thinking more about it, maybe its a weariness.The sadness of the Khurana’s is obvious. They lost their sons and struggle to come to terms with that, but there are other reasons for their sadness. Mansoor survives, but that has its own guilt and ramifications. Plus he is Muslim, a minority, and for some a possible suspect? Shockie, the bomb maker has his own demons. Throughout the book, it seems nobody is happy, or that happiness is only fleeting.  The ineptitude of the police and judicial forces, or the politicians merely add to the downbeat feeling.

The cultural, social and political context of New Dehli and India adds a layer and subtext to the book. There are I guess, nuances, that might be obvious to some or that I as a western reader have missed.

There are no big answers  to the big questions. Motivations for terrorism are not revealed, or at least not to me. There are individual reasons, fame, glory, ideological, political, revenge.

It seems to me after reading, that there are no small lives,  and therefore no small bombs.

I think this going to get 4 stars. 3 and half might be more accurate. The story is engaging. I  cared about Mansoor, and Ayub, a character in the second half. The parents (I’m guessing deliberately are less likeable).

A lot of care has been taken on the language. It is really well written. Its beautiful sad.

A sad book, doesn’t mean a bad book. The Association of Small Bombs is well worth reading, just don’t expect to feel good about the world afterwords.


Author: paumurp

I am a youth worker in Ireland. Easily pleased and slow to anger. I love to read, listen to music and to take photographs

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