This well-written second book from native Zimbabwean Tendai Huchu has an intriguing concept: what happens when two suicide bombers who are about to fulfill their duty suddenly fall in love? When the story begins, narrator Khalid and three other recruits are poised to exact a deadly strike on the London Underground by strapping on bomb vests and hitting four different parts of the subway line at the same time. Led by a man named Tony, the suicide bombers are prepared to carry out their assignment in order to meet in Paradise on the other side. The story begins the day of the bombing, as they suit up and prepare to go to their designated areas. On the train heading toward their assigned subway stops, Khalid and Smokey, the only girl in the group, bond over their odd circumstances, as Khalid describes his trip to Pakistan to train for the operation. During the trip they inexplicably decide to get married, and they meet up with Tariq, one of their fellow bombers, who officiates the wedding by reading from the Quran. They part believing they will soon meet again in Paradise.
But after the two separate, Khalid has a change of heart and decides not to set off his bomb. He races toward Smokey’s train stop, only to find the area in chaos, as her bomb has been detonated. What follows is a tense race through the streets of London as Khalid flees the scene and tries to hide from the authorities. When Tony discovers his betrayal, he sends a brutal message to Khalid, who is now a wanted fugitive. An unexpected reunion, the discovery of Tony’s diabolical plan, and Khalid’s desire for revenge propel the story to the end.
I thought the pacing and tension in An Untimely Love were stellar, and Huchu’s decision to have Khalid tell the story was a good choice. Khalid’s inner struggle to do the right thing in the face of horrible circumstances made him a fascinating character, even if I didn’t always understand his motivation. The character of Smokey, on the other hand, puzzled me, and I felt she was one of the weak links in the book. Smokey’s attitude seemed too rebellious for a young woman about to embark on a one-way religious mission, and her reasons for being part of the team weren’t really made clear. Vague references to the Quran and Islam did little to explain why these young people had decided to give up their lives.
Unfortunately for the title of the book, the weakest part of the story was the “untimely love” between Khalid and Smokey. If there was a certain moment in time when they fell in love, I must have missed it. Perhaps the author meant to show that they were fated to be together, having been thrown into this situation. But it just didn’t work for me, and it would have been more believable with a longer lead-up to the out-of-the-blue marriage. I felt the book was too short, and a more carefully developed love story between Khalid and Smokey would have added to the page count and made this story even better.
Despite this complaint, however, I was thoroughly engaged with Khalid’s story, and I look forward to reading more from this talented writer.
Many thanks to Tendai Huchu for supplying a review copy.
You can purchase An Untimely Love here.