Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on After.
A woman grieving for her husband, who died at the hands of Muslim terrorists, longs to regain her individuality and to lose her public identity as the “widow of the Jew.” One year after her husband’s death, she struggles with the guilt of fresh desires and fading memories. When she meets a married Muslim man at a trade show, the woman gives in to her feelings and agrees to meet the man at a hotel. After is a graphic, sometimes shocking portrayal of their 24-hour affair. Readers should be prepared to examine their inner prejudices, propensity for hatred, and darkest desires in this post-September 11th world.
The novelist describes several sexual encounters. The last scene is the most shocking, involving bondage, sodomy, physical and psychological torture inflicted on the Muslim by the American woman. “Tell them to fear us,” she whispers in his ear while holding a sharp instrument at his throat, drawing blood while repeating her husband’s last words. But can revenge really heal her? Does her violent retaliation ease her grief? Claire Tristram’s book does not provide the answer but provokes serious thought about how and if the victims of today’s terrorists can move past anger and grief to embrace the future.
The reader must also ask the question, “Why does the Muslim acquiesce without protest to this sexual violence and at first seem to welcome it?” Early in the novel, it is mentioned that he also lost a friend to terrorism while participating in a student protest in Tehran in 1978. Today he has been threatened by a dinner acquaintance who learns he is Persian. Both incidents leave him frightened and fragile. Is his submission a sign of solidarity with this American woman, a gesture to show his understanding of her suffering and his willingness to try to ease it, in spite of great cost to his body and soul? Is it guilt associated with his ties to the Muslim community? Perhaps he simply feels it is punishment deserved for his unfaithfulness to his wife.
The book poses many important questions relative to our time; it is thought-provoking and startling, with more questions posed than answered. The confused thoughts of the characters are revealed, but the consequences of their experience together and how they face the future are left to the imagination. Claire Tristram’s first novel is an important one. After may fill us with fear and sorrow but force us to recognize our common bonds as human beings.