Barbara Spindel in the Barnes and Noble Review:
Amitava Kumar wears many hats: Vassar College English professor, literary critic, journalist, poet, and novelist. Duke University Press has just published two books by the prolific writer. Nobody Does the Right Thing is a richly textured novel about a Bombay journalist struggling to reconcile his idealism with his desire to write a Bollywood screenplay. A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb is an impassioned critique of the war on terror that focuses on the cases of Hemant Lakhani and Shahawar Matin Siraj, two men that the U.S. government, with the help of paid informants, convicted of plotting acts of terrorism.
Kumar uses the cases of the two men, whom he sees as “accidental terrorists” created by a government desperate for suspects to prosecute, to argue that in the post-9/11 world, “public interest will need to be defined more boldly as the rights that offer protection against the encroachments of a security state.” Our wide-ranging email conversation covered the two books and also touched on Kumar's education in India, the role of politics in art, and the “ground zero mosque” controversy.
B&N Review: I thought I'd begin with A Foreigner. I'm wondering how the idea for the book was born and how you ended up focusing on Lakhani and Siraj. What did you find particularly compelling about their cases?
Amitava Kumar: I had just come out of Home Depot and turned on the car radio. On the news was Hemant Lakhani. His lawyer was saying how no real terrorist would have come to Lakhani. Lakhani was a bungler. And right there, in the parking lot, while loading boxes in my car, I thought I would write a story about it.