Several months ago I pre-ordered Aaron and Ahmed: A Love Story. The premise was intriguing:
After his fiancée dies during the 9/11 attacks, the question plagues Aaron Goodman. It makes him give up his career as a doctor to become an interrogator/torturer at Guantanamo Bay. And yet, he’s still no less obsessed. He begins overseeing experiments of how meme theory might program people into becoming suicide bombers. (Could there be a science behind terrorism?) Still nothing – until he meets Ahmed, a Gitmo prisoner who might know how the jihadists are using a variation of meme theory in their camps.
To finally learn the truth, Aaron and Ahmed’s search will take them from Gitmo to the jihadist camps in Pakistan right back to Ground Zero in New York City. But where do Ahmed’s real loyalties lie, and will Aaron’s exploration into terrorist camps make him as much of a threat as those he’s protecting his country against?
The book arrived on April 12th. It sat on my desk as I worked through some of the backlog that had accumulated. Less than a month later, Bin Laden was dead.
So it was with the real news of Bin Laden’s death that I approached this work of fiction.
At the time the book was written, Bin Laden was, for many people (myself included), more of a myth than a man. Hope had been all but lost that he would ever be captured. More likely than not, he was already dead. His name was just being invoked to instill fear in the West. In that environment, it invites the mind to wander a bit. Fiction and fancy replace facts.
But, with the raid on May 1st that finally ended Bin Laden’s life, the story of the terror attacks of September 11th once again return to the harsh realm of truth.
So, with a cold dose of reality, read Aaron and Ahmed…and I was disappointed. Instead of taking a realistic approach to what it is that makes someone become a suicide bomber (or a Guantanamo Bay interrogator for that matter), Jay Cantor and James Romberger rush through anything of importance and value so they can focus on a mystical mashup of drug-induced vision questing and viral meme theory.
No one in the book behaves in a believable or rational manner. From the protagonist’s immediate decision in the wake of the September 11th attacks to become an interrogator, to the immediate acceptance of that same protagonist by the super secretive Man of the Mountain (a mystical version of Osama Bin Laden), everything happens too quickly and without any explanation. For a book that purports to provide an in-depth analysis and propose some explanations, this is an insurmountable flaw.
By the time I reached the end of the book I was left with more questions than ever before. There had been no real explanation for the meme theory. There had been no exploration of any other ideas or theories. There had been no revelation or resolution to the relationship between the main characters (love story indeed). All of it could be summed up with the question, “What was the point?”
As far as I can tell, the pointwas to write a fanciful story that explored one man’s ideas about the power of memes and their potential real world application. He chose to anchor it in a real-world setting that was full of questions and precious few answers. Instead of doing careful research and fully exploring the situation and all of its complexities and vagueries (politics, economics, religion, cultural encroachment, historical context, identity, to name a few), Aaron and Ahmed became a story that did not treat the subject matter with much compassion or respect.