Godsend

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

Aden Grace Sawyer from California, 18 years old, finds herself increasingly disaffected with her affluent western lifestyle and turns to religion to provide her life with meaning. She decides to embark on Jihad and sets off for Pakistan. Apparently the author was inspired by a real-life Jihadist - John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” -and ran with the idea of a young westerner embracing radical Islam. I found this a truly gripping and powerful exploration of what it actually means to become radicalised and so dedicated to a cause that you will do anything demanded of you. It’s an important and timely novel that attempts to explain the inexplicable. I’m not sure that I ever really understood Aden’s motivation, but perhaps that’s the point – no outsider can. In spite of the violent and explosive, literally, nature of the subject matter, it’s a quiet and measured book, almost mesmerisingly so, which avoids all sensationalism. I learnt a lot from it, as I expect many readers have, and feel that I have a slightly firmer grasp on the subject than I had before. Compelling reading indeed.
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John Wray's brilliant Godsend is the story of a young American who becomes a radicalized Muslim and sets off on a journey to Pakistan in hopes of eventually joining a jihadist group. That this person is a girl of 18 who has disguised herself as a boy in order to become a part of this movement is what makes this story such a compelling read.
Aden Grace Sawyer and her sometime boyfriend Decker have planned this adventure together. Both are able to speak Arabic and both are dedicated to the study of Islam. She has shaved her head and bound her breasts to make herself believe in her masquerade as much as anyone she encounters. They arrive in Pakistan and travel to a small Madrassa, a school for the study of the Quran, and which is close to the border of Afghanistan. She is accepted as Brother Suleyman and often just called Little Brother. She excels here and becomes a favorite of the Mullah. Though Decker will keep her secret he still has an attraction for her that she discourages. As the story unfolds we are taken deeper into the world of this school, its students and the call and attraction of the militant group, the Taliban, who are fighting just across the border. There are life changing choices confronting Aden and Decker. What happens to them will keep you riveted to the very end. Highly recommended!
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Basically: a coming of age story about an 18 year old fair skinned American girl from California who goes to the Middle East to study at a madrasa, experiences an existential crisis (because who really is she? - an American girl, pretending to be an American boy, not raised Muslim, but is of Islamic faith), and eventually falls in with a crowd of extremists.

This book was excellent - gripping, compelling, so interesting, very much well written. I feel like I learned a lot about a culture and world that is so important. 

Why just 3 stars? This story should be doubled in length. It's not very introspective. These fascinating characters need more depth, more motivation that is driving them into these situations and thoughts. It almost seems as though things just /happen/ without a why or purpose, which leaves the characters feeling a bit one dimensional. Godsend also starts out so strong, falters in the middle, and becomes a bit rushed and sentimental at the end. 

I still highly recommend Godsend. It's an important story to read.

Thank you to #netgalley and FSG for the ARC of #Godsend.
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Aden Sawyer, an eighteen-year-old girl from California, longs to escape the confines of her town. After converting to Islam, she and a friend decide to move to Peshewar, Pakistan to further study Islam - obviously without telling her parents. Aden must disguise herself as a man in order to participate in studies. She takes the name Suleyman, burns her passport, and begins to adjust to life at the Madrasa. It doesn't take long, however, for her naive beliefs of Islam to be shattered by the ideals of an extreme few. A few whose words are easy to get behind. Once the reality has truly sunk in, she has to decide who she is, and what that means for her future. 

This is a story of a young woman's coming-of-age in the harsh realities of a previously unseen-in-America radical Islam. Aden must grow up far faster than she imagined, and face choices none of us should ever have to face. I found the story to be captivating and intriguing. Emotionally draining, and amazingly free. 

4 out of 5

Stefanie Rae
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First off, let's just acknowledge that this is an amazing cover design. That gets all the stars. For me though, the rest of the book was good, but a bit of a slog to get through and I had some issues with the premise. (Looks like I'm in the minority with that opinion though.)

First off, the positives... I think this book does an excellent job of giving us an up close and personal perspective on something many of us here in the West will never experience. Not only do we get a crash course in an Islam jihad and life in a pre-9/11 Afghanistan, we get to see it through the eyes of a woman disguised as a man. There is great attention to detail here, and I learned a great deal reading this book. 

However, I think for me it was that "woman dressed as a man" part of this story that made this book hard for me to connect with. I was never quite sure why Aden was so fervent in her beliefs, why she'd chosen such a difficult quest, or what she hoped to achieve. She's a frustratingly enigmatic character. 

I also had a hard time believing in her ability to pull off her undercover feat. Unlike the excellent cover design, this is not a story about a Western woman hiding under a niqab. This is about a young woman dressed as a man, camping with men, praying with men, traveling with men. I guess if this book is loosely based on the story of John Walker Lindh, I wondered why the author added the gender disguise elements. Personally, I felt like the book would have been more believable without it.

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Despite its’ dramatic subject (the conversion of a young American woman to Islam, her flight to Pakistan to study at a madrasa, and her subsequent involvement with the jihadists), Wray’s book is remarkably quiet in voice, and totally human.  Aden Grace Sawyer disguises herself as a boy to accomplish her goals, and this hiding of her identity becomes all of a part with her exploration of her identity as she burns her American passport and immerses herself in Islam.
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Aden Grace sawyer is an eighteen year old girl native Californian.  She feels as if people pass judgement on her even her own parents.  She doesn't seem to care that people think bad about her because she believes in Jihad. She is an American but does not feel like one.  She doesn't feel like she belongs.  Aden’s friends have abandoned her since she converted to Islam and all she has left is her best friend Decker.  Deciding to study the Qur’an at a madrasa in Pakistan, she convinces Decker to accompany her on her journey.  Aden hopes after her studies at the madrasa that she can cross over the border to Afghanistan as talibs are fighting the godless to bring back faith to their country. Aden wants to live the word of God, but in order to do so she must disguise herself as a young boy and in doing so she takes up the name Suleyman.  Her journey of discovery is a dangerous one rife with sadness and hard truths. But in the eyes of Islam, she is the biggest liar of them all. She is a sinner bearing false witness as she deceives everyone around her.  Will Aden finally find a place where she belongs or will this be the worst mistake she has ever made?

Aden is not an easy character to like. In fact, I pretty much hated her for the majority of this story.  She is selfish and delusional to think she can just go to a Muslim country and fight for a country and people who consider her an outsider.  She has grand dreams of living the word of God with people in unity of purpose something she does not feel in America.  But, when she arrives in the Middle east she experiences the same level of disgust as she did in California. 

Aden studies hard at the madrasa finding favor with the Mullah, but when she meets the Mullah’s son, Ziar Khan, her entire world changes.  She travels with him across the border where she learns how to fight, suffers through losses, witnesses death and slowly begins to understand how perilous her situation really is.  Also remember this is a time prior and leading up to 9/11.  I don’t think Aden realizes just how much the taliban hates America or any other country they consider godless.  Aden is in way over her head and to be quite honest I was not looking for a happy ending for her.  

Godsend is inspired by John Walker Lindh, a US citizen who converted to Islam who later became a traitor to his country.  You can see the parallel between his story and Aden’s and it is quite frightening.  This story is not an easy read by any means.  John Wray does not romanticize any part of this story.  He shows the harsh realities of life in the Middle East during a time of political unrest. Even though Godless is a fictitious story, many parts of it ring true.  it flows effortlessly and is beautifully written regardless of topic. As much as I disliked Aden, I loved the story as a whole in its simplicity.  Wray shows us that you do not have to use flowery words to make a story stand out. I can’t help by liken Wray’s style of writing to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Godless is a gripping story that is so powerful and so compelling.  Even though I had a hard time reading it, I also had a hard time putting it down.  I was truly captivated by Wray’s style of writing and the way his voice grips you and doesn’t let go.  This is not a book you just read, it is a book that you feel deep down in your soul.  Godless is an award worthy read and I wish nothing but the best for this book.  I can not recommend this book highly enough! It deserves all of the praise it is sure to receive.
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This book is unlike any other I've read. A young girl converts to Islam (pre-9/11) and travels to Pakistan for further study at a training camp. However, she knows the best way she can pull it all off is to pretend to be a young boy.  The transformation is truly something to read, at times, even a bit difficult. It's a well-written novel, overall.

The book is a relatively quick read. The format of the dialogue in my NetGalley copy was a bit annoying to follow, but the dialogue itself was strong and advanced the story line. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from NetGalley, but I wasn't required to leave a positive review.
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This compelling novel explores an issue we're seeing more and more- young people who choose to join jihadi movements.  This is set pre-9/11 when it seemed impossible that an American would do it.  What makes this unique is that Aden is a girl and that she must disguise herself as a boy to enter the madrasa and subsequently go on to Afghanistan. As implausible as it may seem that she can not only pull it off but also maintain that fiction, it's key to the story.  The blurb that this was inspired by the Lindh case seems inappropriate.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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The setting: "Inspired by the story of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,"... 18-year old Aden Grace Sawyer, seeks to escape her hometown/parents/life and travel to Peshawar, Pakistan, to study the Quran/Islam at a madrasa. Her mother is an alcoholic. Her father, a professor of Islamic Studies, is an adulterer. She's incredibly disillusioned and begins going to mosques with her Muslim friend, Decker. She can't wait to leave. 

Decker knows her secret--she is disguising herself as a young man for their travels. She becomes Suleyman. Bored at the madrasa, and likely always intending to leave it, to become a jihadi, she follows Ziar, the Mullah's son, into Afghanistan. There, she is confronted with many challenges--not the least of which is continuing to conceal her identity. I learned much about her [their] training regimen, tribal regions and tribal enmity, survival in the Afghani mountains and more.

Touted as a "coming-of-age" novel --but far beyond that. Loaded with information. Different groups of Muslim nationalities. Mujahideen. Her trek over the Mountain. "Dancing boys." So much packed in this slight volume.

Wray creates an engaging  story of a disaffected youth who seeks self redemption as a Muslim. This compelling, well-written novel captured my attention. Recommend. 4.5/
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I understand how Wray's protagonist felt when she left home all by herself at a very young age.  I did the same and went halfway around the world to a Southeast Asian country as a volunteer just as Aden Grace Sawyer did. But we went forty years apart, for different reasons, and under different circumstances.  I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and Aden set off for Pakistan to study at a Madrasa.  I had support from the US government both in Washington and on the ground, a massive infrastructure to provide me with support and medical care.  Aden had to transform herself into a young male believer, and her only comfort was her best friend, Decker, who traveled with her.

Reading about Aden's experience as Suleyman ground me down.  She was always in fear of being exposed as a female which would cost her her life. The dangerous atmosphere in Pakistan was at a time leading up to 9/11.  Suleyman finds herself bored in the Madrasa and follows a wild guy, Ziar, the Mullah's oldest son, into Afghanistan where every minute of every day was a challenge to her survival.

The life jihadists choose takes them on a constant downward spiral.  There doesn't seem to be any hope, even if they are not determined to kill, there isn't a happy ending to any story.  Death is continuously present and can come in the next minute. Moving through the rough terrain of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan seemed to me like a death march.  And yet, the top echelon of the jihadists accomplished death and destruction unlike anything in American history.  There is no end; we have militants today hoping to kill more people in all parts of the world.  John Wray put a voice to it in the form of an innocent young girl. I learned so much from this novel.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.
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The publisher's blurb describes this book as "a coming of age story like no other".  I can think of no better way to review this in a single sentence.  Aden Sawyer lives with her alcoholic mother and has complicated feelings for her father, who she sees rarely.  He left the family and is the professor of Islamic studies and is remarried to a much younger woman.  Aden, an 18-year-old, begins to study the Qu'ran and converts to Islam.  Along the way, she sees her father's belief as superficial and artificial.  During her studies, she meets a Pakistani man, Decker and the two of them leave California to travel to Peshwar to study the Qu'ran.  For the trip, Aden travels as a man and when she arrives presents herself as male, a custom known as bacha posh.  To hide her true identity, Aden relies on Decker keeping her secret and she burns her passport.  As the story progresses, she becomes more entrenched with her studies, then, the other students and their jihad in the mountains.  Eventually, the story comes to an early climax with knowledge that made me question as a reader the baggage and assumptions that I brought to bear on how I experienced this story.  The narrative drops the reader immediately into Aden's point of view and many parts of the story unravel subtly as the story progresses.  A smart, well-constructed and well-written novel, I would recommend this highly for book clubs.  It's one you are going to want to discuss.
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Here's proof that Godsend is thoroughly engrossing: I missed my subway stop while reading it. The story of Aden, an 18-year-old Californian and recent convert to Islam who disguises herself as a boy and heads to Pakistan, ostensibly to study the Qu'ran, Godsend is beautifully written, but the prose is never showy just for the sake of showiness. The reason I'm not giving it five stars is that I found a few of Aden's decisions implausible, even given what we learn about her faith and her background. They seem to have been made less by the character and more by the author to drive the plot. Perhaps when I reread the book (and I will; it was that thought-provoking and evocative), I'll be persuaded otherwise.
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Aden Grace Sawyer conspires with her Muslim friend Decker to leave their comfortable California homes and travel to Peshawar in Pakistan to study Islam in a madrasa. Angry and frustrated with her American life, her drunken mother, her womanizing father and her shallow, self-centered friends, she feels driven to hide her female identity and enter Pakistan as a male, a custom known as Bacha posh. She assumes her new male name of Brother Suleyman, trashes her passport and never looks back.
The next few months pass in a whirlwind as we watch Aden transform from a goodhearted young person into a cold-blooded murderer proficient in explosives, survival, and war. She realizes from time to time that the systemic hatred she’s absorbed is not outlined in the Quran, but she continues to develop along with the students as they slowly become heartless soldiers.
The author, John Wray, has a style of writing that shows you Aden’s world through her eyes, her thoughts, her series of actions and reactions. I initially wanted to read this book to better understand what drives young people to become an Islamist militant, but the writing made me care about Aden’s wellbeing. Even though I didn’t agree with her, I was hooked on this book to the last page, hoping beyond hope that a miracle would happen. 
This is a truly hypnotic read, whether you’re interested and/or curious about Islam traditions or not.
(I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thank you to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for making it available.)
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Godsend by John Wray was such a gripping, compelling story. The subject matter in the book was really hard to stomach but so interesting to get in the mindset of the main character.
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I'm conflicted over this story.  Aden Grace Sawyer is our main character who basically pretends to be a man to get to where she thinks exists only to find it doesn't.  I like it but after a similar case developing here and after being deployed multiple times over there and seeing the plight of women this story was just hard.  I don't think you will be disappointed at all but it is different.
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Book Review: Godsend
Author: John Wray
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 9, 2018

Wow!!! What a masterpiece. I will give away a bit of the plot, just to give a general idea what the book is about. 18 year old American girl converts to Islam pre-911. She and a good friend are recruited and travel to Pakistan to join a training camp, desiring to become jihadis. 

Aden Grace Sawyer, the protagonist, knows that she cannot pull this off as a girl, so she buzzes her hair very short, binds her breasts, lowers her voice and presents herself as a young boy. 

And on it goes from there. This is one of the best books I’ve read in 2018 and expect it to shoot to the top of the best-seller lists. 

The plot is extraordinary. I read the book in one short day. The characterizations and dialogue are superb. Though the language is not excessively beautiful, there were a few lively images. The flow is perfect. It’s a political thriller. A intricate look at someone’s serious transformation. And several plot surprises that were really amazing. 

I can’t say enough good things about this book. Please put it on your list and make sure you get to it at publication if you’re not a NetGalley reviewer. 

I’d give it more than 5 Stars! Highly, highly recommended. 

I will post reviews on NetGalley, Goodreads, Instagram, Facebook, and Amazon after publication, as Amazon won’t post reviews until publication.
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Godsend by John Wray is an excellent, thought-provoking read. 
Most teenagers discover that their parents have feet of clay. Aden Grace Sawyer lives with her depressed, alcoholic mother. Her authoritarian father (a professor of Islamic Studies) has broken up the family. Teacher, as Aden calls him, has married the woman he had an affair with. Aden now sees him as apostate, a decadent American.
Rejecting her oppressive home life, Aden has turned to the clarity and stability of religious teachings in the Qur'an. Teacher has himself to blame. He took Aden to mosques at an impressionable age, when she needed values to cling on to. In another novel Aden would have joined a cult, experimented with drugs or  become a goth. Her embracing Islam is a logical step.
Aden leaves California, ostensibly for the Emirates, with a view to learning more about her new way of life. In reality she travels to a madrasa outside Peshawar to learn the recitation, to memorise the Qur'an. Aden does not travel there as Aden, though. She disguises herself as a young man, Suleyman. Whether this is because she realises that she would be treated in a different way, or whether she identifies as a boy is unclear.
Aden's encounters with men suggests that she has Daddy issues that need to be resolved before she can become a well adjusted adult. She must also discover that men are all basically the same, regardless of faith and country, and equally capable of betrayal.
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