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Godsend: A Novel

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  345 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Inspired by the story of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” Whiting Award–winning author John Wray explores the circumstances that could impel a young American to abandon identity and home to become an Islamist militant.

Like many other eighteen-year-olds, Aden Sawyer is intently focused on a goal: escape from her hometown. Her plan will take her far from her mother
Paperback, 240 pages
Expected publication: October 15th 2019 by Picador
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3.58  · 
Rating details
 ·  345 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Jon(athan) Nakapalau
This is such an important book: it addresses so many of the problems we are facing as a young generation is looking to connect with individuals who want to take advantage of their desire for change. We look through the eyes of someone who is trying to find true meaning while surrounded by a world adrift - and when an anchor is provided it is taken. Aden Sawyer disguises herself as a young man (Suleyman Al-Na'ama) to study Islam at a madrasa in Peshawar, Pakistan. With her boyfriend (Decker) she ...more
Roman Clodia
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
She imagined her past life waiting on the far side of the border, the camp and the madrasa and the town where she'd been born, her school friends and her family, the girl she'd been and long since put to death

It's hard to imagine that a story about a young American woman leaving her home for jihad in Afghanistan could be so muted and quiet - yet Wray has written a book which is filled with intensity and yet sidesteps all the tabloid sensationalism that often accrues to this topic. Balancing a
“The beauty of austerity. The beauty of no quarter. She felt its pull and saw no earthly end to it.”

“She’d hoped for grace and dignity and unity of purpose.”

John Wray’s compelling novel focuses on the physical and spiritual journey of an 18-year-old American girl, Aden Grace Sawyer. Initially, Aden travels from San Francisco to a madrasa in Peshawar, on the northwest frontier of Pakistan. She then moves on to two jihadi training camps—finding herself ever closer to the front where the Taliban
2.5 stars rounded down.

This is a recent release in the US and will be published in January 2019 in the UK. It has received rave reviews from two critics I respect and frequently agree with, Dwight Garner at the New York Times and James Wood at The New Yorker. I wasn’t familiar with the author, but it is his fifth novel and he’s won various writing awards. I was intrigued by the book because I’ve been doing research and writing on why young women are attracted to Islamic extremist organizations l
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 accomp ...more
Bonnie Brody
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Wray is able to portray characters that are emotionally lost, mentally ill, or somehow just don't fit into society's acceptable expectations. After reading 'Lowboy', his brilliant novel of a schizophrenic young man, I eagerly anticipated his next book. Though it was a long time in coming, it has been worth the wait.

Aden Sawyer is the 18 year old daughter of a professor of Islamic studies and an alcoholic mother living in a California college town. She wants desperately to leave her family a
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, netgalley
On a journalistic assignment for Esquire magazine, John Wray travelled to Afghanistan to meet people who had known John Walker Lindh. Lindh was the American who joined the Taliban and who was captured by US forces in December 2001. While in Afghanistan, Wray heard rumours of another American who had joined the conflict on the opposite side and some said it was a woman, perhaps even a girl.

This is the starting point for Wray’s new novel. It is set in the second half of that year, a period which e
Dec 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, netgalley
Godsend - ostensibly based on the story of John Walker Lindh, an American who joined the Taliban in 2000 (and was later captured post-9/11) - follows Aden Sawyer, an 18 year old from California who travels to Pakistan with her friend to study in a madrasa.

A very strong opening, but I feel like the second half of the book didn't quite deliver. The build up to the doomed journey was highly engaging, and I was excited to see what direction the story took. But certain narrative choices (which I won'
This novel is different from any that I can ever recall having read. It is a coming-of-age story, but it is no ordinary coming-of-age story.

John Wray was inspired to write his book by the story of the young American, John Walker Lindh, who became known as the "American Taliban." Lindh was captured as an enemy combatant during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, but he was a rather pitiable character who had apparently been originally inspired by idealism and a desire to study Arabic, fo
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We don’t know much about Aden Grace Sawyer, the 18-year-old Californian who is passionate about connecting with fundamentalist Islam. Like so many, she is a blank state looking in all the wrong places for meaning.

We do know this—she is the daughter of a mother who is an alcoholic and a philandering Islam scholar father who is an Islam scholar and is seeking a connection to—something. As a result, not unlike Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, she disguises herself as a boy and flies t
I just couldn’t get into this at all, I felt the characters were one dimensional on the whole and there was no explanation as to why Aden, the central character, had turned to Islam in the first place. I’m often astounded by male authors who can write in the voice of a female character but not on this occasion. She just wasn’t complex enough. The detail seems well researched and I understand it was based on the life of an American jihadi pre 9/11. I was interested to learn about bacha posh, a cu ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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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
Patty Abarno
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really crazy read. It was so timely and so realistic... I was hooked immediately. I didn’t know where this was going to go but it was definitely worth the ride. Very different and very addictive.
Amy Bruestle
I won this book through a giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

I am really stumped as far as explaining my feelings when it comes to this book.

The writing itself was not at all bad, I just feel like it didn’t answer anything. Not that it was intended to be the answer to any questions...or was it?

I don’t know. I feel like I was supposed to learn “why” Aden felt the way she did, why she believed the things that she believed, and why she did the things that she did. However, I didn’t get any
Jackie Law
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Killing our fellow human beings in the name of some religious teaching has been going on for as long as man has believed in one of the many gods available. Holy books may talk of compassion but they also endorse punishment for those who break their rules. It suits the arbiters when followers live their lives in fear of how they will be treated after death. Religion is about power in the here and now.

Godsend explores the skewed thinking of believers who are willing to kill and die for their god.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rezex
Eine fesselnde Reise einer jungen Erwachsenen, die ihrer romantisierten Idealistik folgt und dann leider auf die bittere, hatte Realität trifft. Die Geschehnisse werden auf emotionaler Ebene weitläufig und interessant präsentiert. Dabei bleibt jedoch der äußerliche Aspekt oft auf der Strecke und Charakter und Orte wirken farblos. Geschichtlich präsentiert das Buch sich als Coming-of-Age Story die ihre markanten Höhepunkte hat, jedoch den gewohnten Pfaden folgt. Aden fungiert oft als eine Art Spi ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book Review: Godsend
Author: John Wray
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 9, 2018

I was given a free copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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 protago
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Melissa Dee
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
James Beggarly
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great novel about an extraordinary young woman who leaves America and her family behind to follow a religion that calls to her, but for reasons she can’t entirety put a name to.
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anspruchsvolles Buch, konnte es nicht so einfach weglesen aber bin zufrieden. 8/10
Und ich weiß das meine Rezis hier ziemlich nichtssagend sind. Aber dafür nutzen ich dann Insta. Das hier ist einfach nur ein kurzer Eindruck :D
John Wolfe
I salute Mr. Wray for attempting to connect with and communicate the humanity of his 17-year-old protagonist. And I appreciate the way he showed how Aden could become so focused on navigating the small corner of the world around her (the madrasa and the training camps) that larger, world issues could become eclipsed.

At the same time, I find myself agreeing with reviewers who felt that the entire exercise felt a little cold and distant. We have a sense of Aden's anger with her parents but after
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4.5

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 t
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sherry Chiger
Aug 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 backgroun ...more
Leslie M.
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review to come.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 itsel
Kathleen Gray
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Bob Luxenberg
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting view in to a jihadist wannabe’s world. Kind of poetic and haunting. Nicely developed, believable and unique main character. But not as penetrating as ‘The Garden of Last Days’ by Debus (which is a masterpiece).
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 Is
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Missed opportunity on fascinating underlying story. Being inside Aden's head became tedious. Author's long, over-descriptive approach to seemingly every room and every feeling was also a drag.
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John Wray is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, Godsend, The Lost Time Accidents, Lowboy, The Right Hand of Sleep and Canaan's Tongue. He was named one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists in 2007. The recipient of a Whiting Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, he lives in Brooklyn and Mexico City.
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“Perhaps the dead forget their lives in the calm of the Garden of Heaven. Perhaps that forgetting is itself what Heaven is.” 0 likes
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