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'Incendiary' by Chris Cleave

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Icendiary, the debut novel by British writer Chris Cleave. The story is triggered by an al-Qaeda bomb attack on a London soccer match.


Other segments from the episode on August 11, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 11, 2005: Interview with Khaled Hosseini; Review of Chris Cleave's novel, "Incendiary;"Commentary on Jack Nitzsche.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Khaled Hosseini discusses his life and book titled
"The Kite Runner"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The novel "The Kite Runner" has become something of a publishing phenomenon.
It's been on The New York Times Paperback Best-Seller List for nearly 50
weeks, but it doesn't fit in the genres of romance, crime, espionage or
conspiracy. Plus, it's a debut novel. The author is my guest Khaled
Hosseini. "The Kite Runner" is inspired by his own experiences. He grew
up in Afghanistan just before the Soviet invasion. His father was a diplomat.
In fact, in 1979, at the time of the Soviet invasion, Hosseini's father was
working at the Afghan Embassy in Paris. The family requested and received
political asylum in the US. They moved to San Jose, California, in 1980,
where Hosseini still lives. Although it was his dream to become a writer, he
became a physician. He's still practicing internal medicine, although he's
now on leave working on his second novel.

Khaled Hosseini, welcome to FRESH AIR. When did you realize that "The Kite
Runner" was actually selling?

Dr. KHALED HOSSEINI (Author, "The Kite Runner"): I think around the time just
before the paperback was released in April of '04, and the hardback was kind
of towards its tail end, and it was beginning to appear on best-seller lists,
which is very unusual after a year of being out in the market. It was just
appearing. So it was really just a slow, simmering thing. And I really think
there's no better PR than word of mouth. And so it came out of the gates in
kind of a pedestrian way, but the word of mouth really built and it spread.
And by the time the hardback was off the shelves and the paperback was coming
in, I think that word of mouth was really beginning to swell. And then a
whole number of communities picked this book for their regional yearly read,
and that really kind of added fuel to that fire, and then it just really took
off from there.

GROSS: Now I've seen people reading "The Kite Runner" on planes, and I figure
you've seen people reading your book on planes. And it got me thinking, like,
I bet when you're on a plane that some people are doing the whole, `Uh-oh, is
he a terrorist?' And at the same time some people are reading your book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Do you go through, like, both extremes when you're flying?

Dr. HOSSEINI: I've never experienced the first one, but I was on a flight,
and I was sitting next to a lady who was reading the book and kind of
surreptitiously crying. And she would, like, dab at her eyes with a napkin
now and then. And I was somewhat tempted to tell her who I was, but then I
figured there would be this whole--she was reading the paperback, and there
was no author photo, and she would ask, `How do I know it's you?' And I would
have to quote some line or, God forbid, show an ID. Yeah, I mean, the
embarrassing logistics of it almost kind of overshadows the romanticism of it
for me.

GROSS: Well, the main character in "The Kite Runner" is the son of a wealthy
businessman in Kabul, and he grows up best friends with the son of one of the
family's servants. Now they're of different ethnic groups, and one is Sunni
and one is Shia Muslim. Who is--I assume the main character is very loosely
based on your life. What about his friend? Who was that based on?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, you know, I had a similar socioeconomic kind of
background and upbringing to the main character, Amir. And like him, there
were--like in his household, there were always people working in and around my
house. And I had a friendship with one of them, a man much older than myself.
He was probably in his 30s, and he was an ethnic Hazara, like the character of
Hassan. And he was a cook. And I struck up a friendship with him and became
close. And he was kind of my partner in flying kites, and he would take me
out to the movies and play in the park with me and so on. And I remember him
as a very affable, kind, gentle man and almost angelic in a certain way, which
I'm sure influenced the writing of this character of Hassan, who in his own
way is very kind of angelic. So I loosely based Hassan on this man that I
knew from my own childhood.

GROSS: And I believe you taught him how to read?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah, he was illiterate. And, in fact, his whole--he told me
no one in his family had ever gone to school. He was from a very rugged,
mountainous area in central Afghanistan, where there really wasn't much in the
way of institutions. And so he was illiterate. And at the time I was in
about third grade. And in the course of our friendship, one thing led to
another, and I kind of became his impromptu teacher and taught him the
alphabet, and he took it from there. And I would assign him homework, and he
would practice reading and writing. And by the time he left the household, he
was reading children's books and beginning to read the newspaper very slowly.
So--and that's something that sort of made its way into the novel as well.

GROSS: You grew up in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and, of course,
before the Taliban came to power. What did you want to capture in your novel
about what life was like in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, you know, for so long, and maybe justifiably so,
Afghanistan's been totally synonymous with the Soviet war or, you know, the
opium trade or the Taliban or bin Laden. But the fact was, there was an
Afghanistan before all of those things. And, in fact, that's the only
Afghanistan I know, that I remember from my childhood, having grown up in the
1970s before the anti-Communist coup. So I kind of wanted to re-create that
lost time and era in at least the first third of this book and to kind of
bring life--a sweeter, more innocent Kabul that I remember from my childhood
and to remind the reader that Afghanistan wasn't always about the caves of
Tora Bora and bombings and land mines and so on; that there was a better time
in that country's history and not that long ago. It just seems a very long
time ago. So I wanted to re-create the Afghanistan of my own childhood, which
I remember was--you know, with a great deal of fondness.

GROSS: Well, what's one of your fondest memories about your neighborhood?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, I mean, you say Kabul to me, and I think kites, and it's
not surprising. Before any other character, the kites came first when I wrote
this book. So maybe my fondest memories revolve around the winters in Kabul
when schools were out, and we had these three months of freedom to run around
and cause trouble with my cousins and my brothers. And, inevitably, a kite
tournament would break out, and we would build our kites and buy our glass
strings and fly kites all day. So that's, almost by word association, what I
think of when I think of those years.

GROSS: My guest is Khaled Hosseini, and he is the author of the best seller
"The Kite Runner."

You left Kabul when you were 11. Your father was a diplomat, and he was sent
to the Afghanistan Embassy in France. What was his position in the embassy?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, he was two positions below the ambassador or three
secretaries working at the embassy, and he was secretary number two. So he
was working as basically an attache, a diplomat, in the embassy.

GROSS: So you were in Paris when you heard that the Soviets had invaded

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah, I--we were home having dinner, and there was a news
break, and they were--I saw on the television--you know, we saw pictures of
these Soviet tanks kind of rolling in. And I remember thinking, with a very
sinking feeling, that we would never see Afghanistan again. And it was
shortly after that that my father began kind of covertly making preparations
to move the family to the States.

GROSS: This may be obvious, but what were some of the reasons why your
parents would not consider bringing the family back to Afghanistan?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, there were mass executions going on at the time, and
anybody affiliated with the previous regime was in danger. I said my father
was a second secretary. The third secretary, who was--had become friends with
the family, he ended up going back during the Communist years, and he took his
family back to Kabul. And, unfortunately, shortly after that, we heard that
he'd been executed. And so that was a very loud and clear message.

GROSS: Did you have other friends or family who were executed or imprisoned
during the Soviet era?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Oh, it would be hard to find an Afghan who hasn't. I had--two
of my cousins fled Kabul after their father was shot and killed at a traffic
stop in Kabul. And the two brothers went to join their family in Pakistan,
and they climbed the back of an empty fuel truck and went from Kabul to
Peshawar. And when the truck arrived in Peshawar, everybody climbed out, but
the younger brother wouldn't wake up, and he had died in his sleep. There
were other acquaintances that we know who were imprisoned, who were
killed--too many to name maybe. But, as I said, it would be really hard to
speak to an Afghan who doesn't know of somebody who was harmed or killed or
imprisoned in some way.

GROSS: At what point did it register on you that you really couldn't go home

Dr. HOSSEINI: When my father revealed to us shortly before we came to the
States that he had applied for political asylum, and we were going to go to a
place called San Jose in California--he said it was on the West Coast of the
US--and that we weren't to tell anybody about this; that it would have to be a
secret within the family. And within days we were gone. And it felt like a
very--it felt permanent. It felt like we weren't just moving but, rather,
relocating and really planning on starting a new life.

GROSS: How did your parents choose San Jose?

Dr. HOSSEINI: They had a sponsor who was a lovely Afghan woman who lived in
San Jose, and she was kind enough to sponsor us. And there was already in
Northern California, here in the South Bay and a little bit in the East Bay, a
kind of a budding Afghan community, people who were fleeing the Soviet horror
and coming to settle in the States. So there were already a few Afghan
families here, and so that was attractive.

GROSS: So your father got asylum in the United States for your family, but
when you moved here your family went from privilege--your father had been a
diplomat from Afghanistan. Your family went from privilege, basically, to
welfare. How did your parents handle that change in status?

Dr. HOSSEINI: I think, in retrospect, very gracefully. There wasn't much in
the way of woebegone expressions and lamenting and that sort of thing. I
think they were blessed with a really good sense of perspective; that as far
as Afghans went, they were in a pretty good situation in California and safe.
The being on welfare part of it was very hard on them, particularly on my dad.
Both of my parents had always been sort of on the giving end of charity, and
for them to live with the notion of being on the receiving end of it was a
very hard blow to their pride. And so we didn't stay on welfare very long,
juts a couple of months, and my father volunteered us out and began working a
number of jobs, as did my mother.

GROSS: Didn't he eventually end up working for welfare?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah. He first became a driving instructor, and so to this day
he is the most reliable direction-giver that I know. But it's sort of a--kind
of an ironic twist. He eventually found a job as a social worker with the
city of Santa Clara, and now he's actually dispensing welfare to immigrant

GROSS: My guest is Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling novel "The
Kite Runner." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling novel "The
Kite Runner," which is inspired by his own experiences growing up in
Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion.

We talked a little bit about what it was like for your family when the Soviets
invaded Afghanistan. What about when the Taliban came to power? Did you
realize at first what an extremist regime it would be?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, not at first. You know, I think initially everybody was
relieved that the war was over; by the war, I mean the horrible, horrible
infighting between the various mujaheddin factions between '92 and '96, which
did what the Soviets didn't do--that is, destroy Kabul completely. And so
there was a sense of relief that finally there was stability. But it was very
short-lived because stories began to leak out and people began to talk about
what the Taliban were doing in Afghanistan. And so what relief there was to
be enjoyed from the end of the war was quickly overshadowed by the knowledge
of what the Taliban were imposing on the people.

GROSS: Do you have any old friends who actually became members of the

Dr. HOSSEINI: No. God, no. You know what? Most of the Taliban--I mean, I'm
40 now, and most of the Taliban were young boys during the Soviet war. And
they were often boys who were fatherless and had to kind of languish in
refugee camps in Pakistan and were put in these madrassas and were taught this
very harsh brand of Islam. So it's a different generation. I think most of
them tend to be--were younger men.

GROSS: What was the fate of your remaining friends and family in Afghanistan
under the Taliban?

Dr. HOSSEINI: I have only one direct relative living in Kabul under the
Taliban, and she has lived in the same house for about 40 years. And she's a
very resolute, resilient woman who refuses to be moved from where she is, and
she just bears it. She has found a rather unique way of dealing with
everything. She's essentially shut herself out of the reality of what's going
on around her and has surrounded herself with a buffer of friends and
relatives, who help her and tend to her. I have a cousin in the western part
of the country, in Herat, where the Taliban presence was very significant but
perhaps not quite as harsh as it was in Kabul.

GROSS: I imagine that when you came to the United States that your friends
who weren't Afghans knew very little about Afghanistan. But that probably
changed after September 11th and certainly after the United States started
bombing Afghanistan in an attempt to drive out the Taliban and capture bin
Laden. What was it like for you when suddenly your country was in the news,
and people who wouldn't be able to find it on the map suddenly had a position
on your country?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah, it was bizarre. Suddenly everybody was interested in
Afghanistan, and they were talking about Mazar-e Sharif and Kunduz and these
towns that, of course, I knew about. But suddenly they were headlines in
newspapers and television. It was very, very disorienting. And I experienced
September 11th and the aftermath of it in two distinct ways: one as somebody
who's lived in America, who had lived in America for more than 20 years, so
the sense of outrage and shock at the atrocity of it was--registered with me
as with any other American; but I also experienced it as an Afghan, especially
when it became evident that the regime in Afghanistan had had a hand in
protecting the folks who had caused this problem.

And so I felt, you know, very ambivalent about what was going to happen in
Afghanistan. On the one hand, here was an opportunity for this very brutal
regime to end, but it also meant more bombing and more killing and the loss of
more innocent lives. So it was very difficult and kind of a tumultuous time
for us.

GROSS: You returned to Afghanistan in 2003 for the first time since the
Soviet invasion. So you left Afghanistan when you were 11. You returned in
2003 when you were 38. Was there anything left that you actually recognized?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah. I had a very surprisingly vivid recollection of the
layout of the city and where the different neighborhoods were. And there were
landmarks that I recognized immediately: some of the apartment complexes that
I remembered, the old cinema where my brother and I used to go and watch
Westerns, the park where we used to fly kites. All of that was still there,
albeit in a very neglected at best, demolished at worst, kind of state. I
visited my--the aunt that I told you about, and she was in the same house, and
I hadn't seen her in almost 30 years.

So there were things that I recognized, but everything was altered in a
terrible way. And the first two or three days that I was there, the
destruction, the--how destitute people had become, it was very appalling. And
I didn't think I would be able to last two weeks, and it takes a good two or
three days to just kind of take a deep breath and be able to move forward.

GROSS: How long did you last?

Dr. HOSSEINI: I was there the full two weeks. I was there with my
brother-in-law. And here's a sad fact. After a few days it registers in a
different way. It's just life. It's just the way of life: the beggars, the
widows, the amputees, all the people who've been scarred and damaged horribly
by the war. It becomes part of life there, not the background, but it
just--you're not as appalled, as startled as you were the first few times.
And it's just, I think--it's not a callous thing. It's just goes to show you
how ubiquitous those things are in Kabul and how there's no way of going
anywhere without being confronted by what has happened there.

GROSS: Khaled Hosseini is the author of the best-selling novel "The Kite
Runner." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, Ed Ward profiles arranger and producer Jack Nitzsche. He
worked with Phil Spector, Bobby Darin, little Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and
Marianne Faithfull, among others. Maureen Corrigan reviews the new British
novel "Incendiary." And we continue our interview with Khaled Hosseini.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Khaled Hosseini, author
of the best-selling novel "The Kite Runner." It's inspired by his own
experiences. He grew up in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. In 1979,
at the time of the invasion, he was living in Paris, where his father was a
diplomat at the Afghan Embassy. The family received political asylum in the
US and moved to San Jose in 1980, where Hosseini still lives.

Another thing about your novel, a lot of the story is really propelled by
guilt. And I won't give away what it is that makes this character so guilty
throughout his life, but was there a counterpart for you that made you think
about the weight of carrying around one action that you regret forever and
that you try to eventually compensate for?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Not so much that, but I think when you talk to people who are
the diaspora--people who live in exile, where their native country is being
demolished--there's always this--at least for me there always has been this
undercurrent of guilt about my own good fortunes and my own life. And I have
thought from time to time about people that I knew in Afghanistan who were
poor, who worked as cooks and gardeners, and I wonder what has happened to
them. I've thought about Hossein Hahn(ph)--this man who I was friends with,
who was a cook in my household--many times I wonder, you know, if he's even
alive or what has happened to him. And there's this--always this kind of
sense of guilt and unease, like an undercurrent. And so when I was writing
this character of Amir, that was something that was always there, his guilt.
It was pervasive. And so I--it became kind of a--this theme in the book, but
I think a lot of it stems just from the way that I view my own life.

GROSS: Are there traditions from Afghanistan that you still keep?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, in my household, I think everything begins with language,
so I speak Farsi to my children. And my son, who's four, is completely
bilingual. My daughter's learning both languages. I think it starts with
that, but there are, you know, wedding traditions, of course, that are kept in
our community. I observe Ramadan. I'm not a stringent Muslim, but I do
observe almost in a cultural kind of way. And then at the end of Ramadan,
there are two days of feasts, where you go and visit family, relatives, and we
invariably do that. So there are Afghan traditions that we try to keep, but
inevitably it kind of becomes diluted by the ambient environment and the
culture around us, which is so overpowering.

So--and I just want to preserve enough so that my children will have some
knowledge, some appreciation of their background or where they came from,
understanding that it can never register with them the way it did and does
with me.

GROSS: You mentioned the traditions of weddings, and in your novel "The Kite
Runner," the father spends $35,000, nearly the balance of his life's savings,
on his son's wedding ceremony. Did your father do that for your wedding?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah, God bless him. He dug deep in his pockets and threw a
wonderful wedding. We had over, I think, 600 people show up to the wedding;
about 500 of them were invited. And so it was this big affair in Fremont, and
my dad paid for it.

GROSS: You know a lot of people.

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, you know, Afghans are very social creatures, you know,
and this goes back to the way of life in Afghanistan, where, you know, in the
'60s and '70s there wasn't much to do. And I--there's a wonderful line from a
friend of mine who's a writer, Tamim Ansary, who wrote in his book "West of
Kabul, East of New York"--who said, `In the West, you have television. In
Afghanistan, we had genealogy.' And so people sat around--you know, people
sat around and they talked about who's related to who and this very complex
network of how people are connected. And so those connections and those
relations stayed with you, and so when your eldest son is getting married, it
seems almost unthinkable to omit people. So, yeah, there was a lot of people.

GROSS: So did you feel grateful or guilty that your father spent so much
money on your wedding?

Dr. HOSSEINI: I felt grateful, and then I felt very guilty, so I paid him

GROSS: Oh, did you really? After your book...

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah, I...

GROSS: ...was published or before that?

Dr. HOSSEINI: No, when I became a practicing physician, and he didn't want to
take it back. He was very graceful about it, but I felt like he'd done enough
for me already, so I paid him back.

GROSS: My guest is Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling novel "The
Kite Runner." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling novel "The
Kite Runner," which is inspired by his own experiences growing up in
Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion.

What do you think of how America has handled its part of the war in

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, I mean, I spoke to a lot of Afghans when I was in Kabul
about the role of the US and what was going on in Afghanistan. And, by and
large, there's still quite a bit of goodwill for the American presence in
Afghanistan from the Afghans. The hope there, or what everybody wants to see
and what I want to see as well, is that the focus of the American effort there
will shift a little bit from the military to the economics and to the actual
rebuilding of the country, not that that's not being done. But sometimes
there's this feeling that that's almost a distant second, and the focus there
is really to root out the al-Qaeda remnants and defeat the Taliban. So, you
know, I--and I think I speak for a lot of different Afghans--hope for more of
a rebuilding effort from the Americans in Afghanistan.

GROSS: Do you think democracy is taking root in Afghanistan?

Dr. HOSSEINI: You know, I think the idea of kind of a secular, Western idea
of democracy in Afghanistan is very--is not a reality, and I don't think it's
realistic. That said, I think there's a chance for an Afghan version of a
democracy, where, you know, Afghanistan can kind of derive from its own
traditions and its own culture to, you know, set up a system of government
where people can participate, and it's relatively open and accessible and
fair. But to imagine sort of the Western-style democracy in Afghanistan today
or even in the near future, I think, to me is unfathomable.

GROSS: Has "The Kite Runner" been translated into Farsi?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Well, I was recently notified that it was. I got an e-mail
from an Iranian woman in Tehran, who somewhat apologetically said, `We don't
have copyright laws in Iran, but I just want to let you know I translated your
book, and the publisher has published your book. So if you want a copy, let
me know, and I'll send it to you.' So it's available now in Farsi; it's
available in Iran. And I'm sure that it will very quickly make its way into
Afghanistan, where the book has been read, at least in Kabul, to some extent
in English already, but I think in Farsi it'll reach a larger number of

GROSS: My guest is Khaled Hosseini, and he's the author of the best-seller
"The Kite Runner."

You know, you grew up in Kabul, and I grew up in Brooklyn. One of the
cultural things we have in common is that we both loved "The Magnificent
Seven" when we were growing up.


(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And--I assume you did anyways because your main character does, so I


GROSS: ...he's speaking for you on that account.


GROSS: And your character sees it 13 times and also learns the hard way that
you're not supposed to reveal the ending of movies to friends in the United


GROSS: ...friends who haven't seen the movie. And you say the opposite is
true in Afghanistan; that people always want to know...

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah, the first thing...

GROSS: ...`Do they find happiness at the ending?'

Dr. HOSSEINI: Yeah. I remember we'd go see a film, and you'd say, `Well, is
it a happy ending or sad ending? Did they die at the end?' And that's, like,
the first thing they want to know. So you tell them, `No, it has a happy
ending,' and then people would go with some sense of, I guess, security to see
the film. But I learned, as you say, kind of the hard way that there's a word
for that in the States, and it's called spoiling it. And so it's--you're not
supposed to do that.

GROSS: So what did you love about "The Magnificent Seven"?

Dr. HOSSEINI: Oh, God, Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson. Seven
guys against a whole gang, what's there not to like? It was mythical. I
loved it.

GROSS: So you loved an American Western when you were growing up. When you
found out you were going to be moving to the Western part of the United
States, did you expect to find guys on horses there?

Dr. HOSSEINI: (Laughs) You know, up until the time when we moved to Paris, I
actually did. And I thought there were, really, two kinds of Americans:
cowboys and hippies. And so I was convinced that that's what I would find if
I ever went to the States. This was in the '70s, and there was this influx of
the hippie culture in Kabul.

GROSS: Oh, sure. Oh, sure.

Dr. HOSSEINI: And--yeah.

GROSS: Oh, right.

Dr. HOSSEINI: There were opium houses and hashish everywhere, very cheap, and
everybody was friendly. And so most of my contact with Westerners at that
time was with hippies and then the cowboys from the movies. Then I moved to
France, and I gradually realized that, `Well, not all Westerners are hippies,
and there really aren't that many cowboys,' you know, judging by what I was
seeing on television from the US. And so by the time I came here, I was 15,
and, sadly, all those childhood ideas were gone.

GROSS: Khaled Hosseini is the author of the best-selling novel "The Kite

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Chris Cleave's novel, "Incendiary"

The most talked about literary phenomenon of this summer is a first novel by
British author Chris Cleave. Book critic Maureen Corrigan tells us why.


July 7th, 2005, the day of the London bus and Underground bombings, was also
the day that Chris Cleave's debut novel, "Incendiary," which is about a major
terrorist attack in London, was released on the UK. Depending upon which side
of the Atlantic you stand, that morbid coincidence that it's been called was
either a publicist's nightmare or a grotesque opportunity. In Britain,
advertisements for the novel were pulled; some had already been posted in the
Underground stations. In the US, the publicity campaign for the novel was
intensified. Lest I sound holier than thou, I have to admit that a big reason
why I and presumably many other reviewers have been attracted to this first
novel is precisely because of its ugly timeliness.

But here's another irony to add to all those clustering about "Incendiary."
One of the most newsworthy aspects of this novel, its grounding conceit
really, is also its weakest feature. "Incendiary" is structured as an
old-fashioned, epistolary novel, specifically as one long and very improbable
letter written by a young window and mother to Osama bin Laden. This unnamed
working-class woman lost her policeman husband and four-year-old son when
suicide bombers blew up a London soccer stadium. Our narrator was watching
the match on TV as she was having vigorous extramarital sex with an
upper-class toff who she met at a pub.

`Dear Osama,' her novel-length letter begins, `they want you dead or alive so
the terror will stop. Well, I wouldn't know about that. I mean, rock 'n'
roll didn't stop when Elvis died; it just got worse.' This is not a promising
opening, nor is our narrator's declaration that she's writing to Osama because
she wants to convert him away from terrorism through love, specifically by
making him feel the grief-stricken love she has for her dead little boy, a
compelling reason for us readers to stick with this confessional letter.

Our narrator may believe in the logic of what she's doing, but by the time
she's begun writing, she's become mentally unhinged. Every time our narrator
directly addresses Osama, the credibility of "Incendiary" collapses. But if
readers can just blot out the O-word, there's a lot to appreciate here. Our
narrator's voice is emotionally expressive. The crucial ending plot twist is
truly disturbing.

And Cleave, like his countryman Martin Amis, possesses a gimlet eye which he
trains on every manifestation of social posturing and cheap sentimentality.
When she sees the explosion on TV, our narrator races to the burning stadium
to try to find her husband and son. She's seriously injured, and when she
comes to one morning in the hospital, she hears the radio announce that the
death toll is up to 1,003, which is then followed by--What else?--the airing
of the inevitable just-written song by Sir Elton John called "England's Heart
is Bleeding."

Or take this satiric, but not wholly unlikely, touch of futuristic
scene-setting by Cleave. As part of London's new defense measures, a host of
barrage balloons tethered to thick cables are launched above the city. If
airplanes try to attack its tall buildings, they'll be tangled up in the
cables. Faces of the stadium victims have been painted on the balloons, and
the whole effort is officially called the Shield of Hope. Here's our
narrator's blunt description of the balloon-filled sky as she stares at it one
summer afternoon. `They hadn't chosen very nice people for the balloons
around Hyde Park. The faces were mostly fat blokes who look like they could
tuck the pints away. You could imagine them pinching your bum at a New Year's
Eve party, saying, "How about it, darling?" It was funny seeing those dead fat
blokes 500 feet up in the air, saving us from kamikazes. It might have been
the first decent thing they've done in their lives, most of them.'

As is commonly acknowledged, the Brits still get the issue of class better
than we Americans do, and Cleave's novel is informed by comic as well as
deadly serious observations about the consequences of the class divide. It's
hard to say if all its strengths will save "Incendiary" from simply being the
literary oddity of the moment. As our gravely depressed narrator is told by a
callous acquaintance, the world wants to move on from tragedy and horror. The
last irony to attach itself to this novel encrusted in ironies is that
"Incendiary" may well end up being the victim of its own much-talked-about

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Incendiary," the debut novel by Chris Cleave.

The bass player Keter Betts died Saturday at the age of 77. One of the people
he recorded with was Dinah Washington. He's featured on this 1955 recording.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. DINAH WASHINGTON: (Singing) If they ask me, I could write a book about
the way you walk and whisper and look. I could write a preface on how we met
so the world would never forget. And a simple secret of the plot is just to
tell you that I love you a lot. Then the world discovers as my book ends how
to make two lovers of friends.

GROSS: Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on producer and arranger Jack
Nitzsche. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Career of producer and arranger Jack Nitzsche

When you hold in your hands a CD with both Doris Day singing "Move Over
Darling" and Marianne Faithfull singing "Sister Morphine," it can only be an
overview of the career of producer and arranger Jack Nitzsche. The CD is
called "The Jack Nitzsche Story-Hearing is Believing." Rock historian Ed Ward
calls him the unsung hero of rock 'n' roll.

(Soundbite of music)

ED WARD reporting:

Jack Nitzsche was the man who was everywhere. The son of German immigrant
parents who, yes, were related to the philosopher Nietzsche, he was born in
Illinois in 1937 and found his way to Hollywood in 1955, determined to study
music. That didn't last long. Soon he was working as a music copyist at
Specialty Records with their new songwriter, Sonny Bono. By 1961, he was
getting a reputation as an arranger capable of writing string parts and
orchestral segments for pop songs, and this brought him to the attention of
Phil Spector. Spector may have talked a lot about writing `little symphonies
for the kids,' but he still needed someone to put the notes on paper.
Nitzsche was his man.

(Soundbite of "He's A Rebel")

THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) See the way he walks down the street. Watch the way
he shuffles his feet. My, he holds his head up high when he goes walking by.
He's my guy. When he holds my hand, I'm so proud 'cause he's not just one of
the crowd. My baby, oh, he's the one to try the things they've never done.
Just because of that, they say, `Hey, he's a rebel and he'll never be any
good. He's a rebel 'cause he never, ever does what he should.' Just because
he doesn't do what everybody else does...

WARD: "He's A Rebel" was Nitzsche's first arrangement for Spector and one of
his simplest, but he'd formed a major partnership with an influential
producer. He was also writing songs and arranging them for records, like this
one by Jackie DeShannon.

(Soundbite of "Needles and Pins")

CHER: (Singing) I saw him today. I saw his face. It was a face I loved, and
I knew I had to run away and get down on my knees and pray that they'd go
away, but still they begin, needles and pins, because of all my pride, the
tears I gotta hide. Hey, I thought I was smart, I'd win his heart, and I
didn't think...

WARD: Spector's influence--the up-front percussion and the multitracked
acoustic guitar--was obvious, and so is this version's superiority to The Dave
Clark Five's, thanks to Nitzsche's arranging skills. Still, he wanted to
advertise a bit, so he pulled some strings and did a record for Frank
Sinatra's new label, Reprise. It wasn't a big hit, but it made waves.

(Soundbite of "Lonely Surfer")

WARD: The "Lonely Surfer" was hardly surf music, the six-string bass lead
notwithstanding, but it was pretty sophisticated for rock 'n' roll, and it got
him work. Bobby Darin, Doris Day, little Stevie Wonder and, of course, Phil
Spector made sure he was busy. In 1964, the Rolling Stones decided to do some
recording at RCA Studios in Hollywood and appear in a film called "The Tammy
Show," of which Nitzsche was musical director, and another major connection
was made. He wound up playing keyboards on numerous Stones tracks, including
"Satisfaction," where he's just barely audible.

Unsurprisingly, as rock 'n' roll changed, Nitzsche was able to change with it.
After Phil Spector hung up his earphones in 1966, Nitzsche kept his tradition

(Soundbite of music)

Backup Singer: How he loved that lady.

Mr. GARRY BONNER: (Singing) Juliet Jones, Juliet Jones.

Backup Singer: La, la, la, la.

Mr. BONNER: (Singing) She's in love in a world all her own. But still I long
to be a part of and be inside the heart of that lady. Juliet Jones, sweet
Juliet Jones.

Backup Singer: La, la, la, la.

Mr. BONNER: (Singing) She's the sweetest girl that I've ever known. And
though I love her, heaven knows, I just can't get too close to that lady.
She's so fine, but it's such a shame, 'cause...

Mr. BONNER and Backup Singer: (Singing in unison) ...the heart of Juliet

WARD: I have no idea who Garry Bonner was, but this record from 1967 shows a
lot of risk-taking in its arrangement. So does this one.

(Soundbite of "Expecting to Fly")

Mr. NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) There you stood on the edge of your feather,
expecting to fly. While I laughed...

WARD: Nitzsche's relationship with Neil Young, whom he first produced on
"Expecting to Fly," would see him joining Young's band Crazy Horse, playing on
and producing many tracks, and eventually moving onto his ranch.
Unfortunately, he also started living like a rock star during the 1970s,
picking up some rock-star bad habits. He continued to work at his usual
feverish pace, moving into film soundtrack scoring after doing Nicolas Roeg's
film "Performance," starring Mick Jagger. He did over 20 during the 1980s.
Nitzsche landed in rehab over and over, and in 1998, he had a stroke. Two
years later he died from complications of an infection. Among those at his
funeral were Nancy Sinatra, Sean Penn and The Cramps, which is fitting for a
man who was everywhere.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He reviewed "The Jack Nitzsche Story-Hearing
is Believing."

(Soundbite of "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?")

ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Have you seen your mother, baby, standing in the
shadow? Have you had another, baby, standing in the shadow? I'm glad I


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?")

ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Have you seen your brother, baby, standing in the
shadow? Have you had another, baby, standing in the shadow? Well, I was
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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