BKRev #1727. The Association of Small Bombs. (2016). Karan Mahajan. New York: Penguin Books, 276 pp. Price $16.00.  ISBN 9780143109273, http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/318764/the-association-of-small-bombs-by-karan-mahajan/.

Caryn N. Morgan

School of Engineering Education

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN

[email protected]


The Association of Small Bombs is a stirring novel that explores issues as large as the political culture of India and acts of terrorism to those as intimate as family relationships and an international student’s experiences in a United States university.  The story centers on a terrorist bombing of a marketplace in New Delhi, India.  The bomb itself acts almost as a character throughout the story as the author explores terror victims and perpetrators. Two families, the Khuranas and the Ahmeds, have children present during the blast in New Delhi. The Khurana children are killed by the blast while the Ahmeds’ son survives.  The author quickly expands the story to include backgrounds of those who carried out the attack, India’s criminal justice system, and more.

The subplots that branch out from the bomb itself, through the Khurana and Ahmed families are complexly interwoven but the author just as skillfully unravels them at the conclusion.  The prose is interesting and easy to read but discusses profoundly our interconnectedness as human beings. 

This book can be useful to an academic advisor in many aspects.  Set in the time period of 1996 through 2003, the book is still well-timed for today’s events and climate.  Those who work with a population of international students from India can benefit from the exploration of the economics, politics, criminal justice, religions, and geography of India in the accessible format of a novel. 

While it is a smaller subplot of the story, the inclusion of a university student from India studying in the United States is especially applicable for academic advisors in the U.S. The book details one Muslim student’s experience in the U.S. and how he navigates contemporary events and yet is always pulled back by his experience in the marketplace bombing.

An additional pertinent theme in the book is related to economic status; the Khuranas are in a lower-income group than the Ahmeds, partly because the father chose to pursue a career that was his passion rather than one with a higher salary.  In exploring the Khuranas’ reaction to losing their sons, an undercurrent of denying their income status is there.  It is an atypical way for advisors to think about career advising with their own students.

The Association of Small Bombs reminds advisors that a person’s identity and choices come, at least partially, from societal expectations and cultural norms.  It prompts thought about the network of life events that leads a student to campus and influences their decisions and actions.  The book is a well-written quick read that has application in advising, despite being a work of fiction. 

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