In creating the character of 18-year-old Ahmad Mulloy, John Updike has imagined what some of us fear most—a homegrown terrorist. Born in the U.S. to an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father, Ahmad is raised by his mother—who is exactly the wrong kind of parent for him. His mother believes in leaving children free to find their own way; he longs for direction. She likes creative chaos; he craves order. She, a lapsed Catholic, has little use for religion; he, something of a mystic, longs for God.
So at age 11 Ahmad takes himself to a nearby mosque and begins to study the Qur’an, tutored by the mosque’s sinister imam, Shaikh Rashid. Ahmad’s best qualities, his desire for God and longing for a serious and meaningful life, make him an easy tool for others to manipulate. The formation of a terrorist begins.