Title: 31 Hours
Author: Masha Hamilton
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Unbridled Books
I picked up 31 Hours because I’ve been listening to Nicole from Linus’s Blanket‘s new show, That’s How I Blog. Nicole interviews other book bloggers and at the end of the show hosts a 20-minute book club. I haven’t been able to listen to the book discussion yet because I haven’t read any of the books. There is one show each week and there is no way I’d be able to read all of the books, so I’ve decided to pick just a few. 31 Hours will be discussed on December 29, 2009 when Julie from Booking Mama is the guest.*
In 31 Hours, Jonas, a 21-year-old New Yorker, has converted to Islam and is planning on martyring himself during a terrorist attack on the New York Subway System. The novel follows Jonas, his mother, his girlfriend, her sister, and a subway panhandler during the 31 hours prior to the attack. Carol, Jonas’ mother knows her son is in trouble – she just has a feeling. Vic, his girlfriend, has been so involved in her own life that she hasn’t noticed how long its been since she’s talked to Jonas. Vic’s sister, Mara, is dealing with the changes her parents’ separation have brought. And Sonny, the panhandler, is just trying to make a living. 31 Hours is about the intersection of these lives.
It’s impossible to read 31 Hours without constantly remembering September 11 and its aftermath. But what is unique is that this novel only covers the hours leading up to a possible attack. It’s hard to remember that things were happening before those planes hit the World Trade Center. I was just a college student going about my day, but others were diligently preparing for those attacks at that time and still others were innocently packing and heading to the airport. This book differs because Jonas is a homegrown terrorist – an American frustrated by the state of the US to the point that he thinks violence is the only way to change things, – but perhaps there were people like Jonas’ mother or Sonny who did sense the impending disaster.
Religion is obviously a large part of 31 Hours. Jonas, raised without any religion like many are these days, isn’t sure what to make of the world. He turns to various religions and ultimately settles on Islam while keeping aspects of the others. Experimenting with religion and finding your own sense of morality is a part of most young adults’ lives. We go out in the world and meet new people and we try to figure it all out. Is it really that crazy that an upper-middle class kid raised in no particular religion might turn to radical Islam?
Because 31 Hours only gives us a glimpse into the preparatory hours of an attack, I had an unresolved feeling when I finished it. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s like the whole novel is leading up to a climax that never comes, but then you realize that’s the point. The attack or lack of attack is not the most important aspect of the novel. It’s about the decisions that we make, the paths that we walk, the way our lives interact with others’ lives. I thought this book would be like Arlington Road or an episode of 24 with a fast-paced race to prevent an attack. But it isn’t. Hamilton’s language is beautiful and she manages to keep the reader’s interest despite the slow pace of the book.