Mixed Feelings: The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Association of Small Bombs, Karan MahajanFiction
Release Date: March 22, 2016
278 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if the “Good For People Who Are Interested In” section below appeals to you
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Viking) via NetGalley


The Association of Small Bombs‘s fantastic start, meandering middle, and somewhat perplexing ending left me with mixed feelings.

Plot Summary

A portrait of how small scale terrorism (i.e. a car bomb vs. something like 9/11) impacts the lives of its victims and perpetrators, told through the stories of the families of two young boys killed by a bomb in a Delhi market (the Khurana brothers), the boys’ friend and a survivor of the same attack (Mansoor Ahmed), and multiple perpetrators of terrorism.

Why I Read It

I first saw this book on The Millions Great 2016 Book Preview and their description of “the way that families, politics, and pain weave together” in relation to small scale terrorist attacks intrigued me.

Major Themes

Terrorism, Muslims living in a predominantly Hindu country, grief, how law enforcement in India handles terrorists, Kashmir/India conflict

What I Liked

  • My Kindle’s highlighting function got a serious workout…particularly in the first half of the book when Mahajan’s social commentary shined. 

He’d become a man whose kids had died. This was his chief distinction. It occurred to him now that people are defined much more by their association with death than by what they do in life. Poor thing, she’s a widow, they say. She lost her mother when she was ten to cancer.

  • The Association of Small Bombs mentally took me to India (specifically Delhi) and was a stark comparison to The Year of the Runaways (also set partially in India), during which I felt like I was hanging out in the clouds above India, with only a hazy view of the country. To be fair, I only read the first 12% of Runaways, but my very present feeling during Small Bombs was immediate.
  • This story made me think: about life in a country where bombings are common, about ways to grieve, about the experience of Muslims in a predominantly Hindu country, about how young people get drawn into a life of terrorism, about what it’s like to be a terrorist, about the differences between “small scale terror” and mass attacks, and about Indian cultural biases (i.e. how the North views the South, poverty, etc).
  • Mahajan was not afraid to portray odd and less socially acceptable ways of handling grief, which I appreciated. Without giving anything away, the way grief manifested in some of his characters was unexpected and a little shocking…and had me raising my eyebrows in a good way.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Initially, I found two potential story directions incredibly intriguing, but Mahajan didn’t truly pursue either of them. He went a third way, which was unexpected, but less compelling for me. 
  • The middle of the book focuses on Mansoor (the Khurana brothers’ friend who survived the bombing) and his involvement with a political discussion group. And, at this point the story started meandering.
  • I wish Mahajan had fleshed out the conflict between India (predominantly Hindu) and Kashmir (a Muslim region) and how Narenda Modi came to power in Kashmir more fully, as it’s the driving force behind the terrorist attacks that are central to the story. I didn’t know much about it and had to resort to Google for more information.
  • One part of the ending was completely bizarre and ancillary to the story. Was it there for shock value? Did I just not get its meaning? Or, was it just not explored adequately enough to make sense?

A Defining Quote

“And you know what happens when a bomb goes off? The truth about people comes out. Men leave their children and run away. Shopkeepers push aside wives and try to save their cash. People come and loot the shops. A blast reveals the truth about places.”

Good for People Who Are Interested In…

Gorgeous writing, books that make you think, politics, terrorism, social commentary

Get Weekly Email Updates!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. This sounds like it’s VERY much in my wheelhouse. I have a hold at the library, just waiting for it to get there!

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I hope it works for you and would love to discuss offline once you read it! There are some details I vaguely alluded to in my review that I’d love to be able to discuss in more detail without worrying about spoilers!

      And – now that I have some space from it, I’m looking back on it more and more fondly. Especially the writing.

      Posted 3.20.16 Reply
  2. The book does sound interesting but I think I’d probably have the same issues you did.

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I definitely had some issues, but I still liked the book overall…just wasn’t perfect!

      Posted 3.20.16 Reply
  3. Carmen wrote:

    Too bad it wasn’t an even book because its topic is both relevant and timely.

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      True, but still an enjoyable book overall.

      Posted 3.20.16 Reply
  4. Naomi wrote:

    The defining quote you shared definitely has me thinking it would be an interesting read!

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      The writing was really top notch – I hope you get a chance to pick it up!

      Posted 3.20.16 Reply
  5. I will probably give this one a try, since I like your defining quote and fall into your “good for people…” category. I will get it from the library, so that I won’t feel so bad if I don’t like the meandering middle.

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I hope you get to it!

      Posted 3.20.16 Reply
  6. Amanda wrote:

    I am basically sold on “Gorgeous writing, books that make you think, politics, terrorism, social commentary”. I will definitely get this on the library list. I think I was iffy on requesting an ARC of this but even with the issues you had with the book you’ve sold me.

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      It certainly wasn’t a perfect book for me, but the writing and good parts definitely outweighed my issues! Hope you try it 🙂

      Posted 3.20.16 Reply
  7. I love the quotes and it really does sound intriguing. I would love to dig into the minds and thoughts of others on terrorism, I’m just not sure that it would be a book for me. This is one I’ll have to either sit on and think about or sit it out altogether.

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
  8. This sounds excellent, and might need to be one I pick up soonish!

    Posted 3.17.16 Reply
  9. Athira wrote:

    I will have to read this one for sure. I wasn’t quite sure the premise is for me – I like not to read much about terrorism and its impact on people because sometimes it feels too manipulative to me but this one sounds pretty good.

    Posted 3.18.16 Reply
  10. I think I’d like this one. I do love these kind of books. Helps me understand what’s going on in a place that seems so foreign to me.

    Posted 3.18.16 Reply
  11. God, this sounds really interesting, but you’ve got me nervous about it! Not sure if it’s necessarily my type of book, but I love gorgeous writing and social commentary soooo…. Grabbed the free copy at the bookstore, but who knows when I’ll get to it.

    Posted 3.18.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Hope it works for you!

      Posted 3.20.16 Reply
  12. Judy wrote:

    Thanks for your review. It sounds like one of those books with an unusual approach to story telling and sometimes I like those.

    Posted 3.19.16 Reply
  13. T wrote:

    Sarah, I had to differ from your review.
    First, let’s look at the defining quote that you highlighted. It’s a quote that rings utterly false to me, and I think that was highlighted in the reaction to the bombings yesterday in Brussels.
    I should also point out that Narendra Modi didn’t come to power in Kashmir as you wrote; rather he was elected Prime Minister of the nation in 2014.
    But where I really differ is that I thought this book was so poorly written, I had to stop reading beyond a certain point. Did you really think the writing is gorgeous?

    Posted 3.23.16 Reply
  14. Catherine wrote:

    I’m 20% in and really liking it so far. I see what you mean about the prose- it’s lovely, with the exception of a few small forays into some sexualized content that I just didn’t get. The story is compelling, but I’m not to the meandering part. We’ll see. Thanks for clarifying the ins and outs of this for me- I count on you for that!

    Posted 3.24.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I’m glad you’re enjoying it! There’s one part I really want to discuss with someone, so we’ll have to talk once you’re finished! I didn’t really feel the meandering until at least the halfway point.

      Posted 3.27.16 Reply

Get Weekly Email Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive all new blog posts in one weekly email. Plus, news of special updates and offers!

You have Successfully Subscribed!