Sonia Bailey is an enigmatic and attractive young woman, not bound by societal conventions. In a chance encounter she meets Farid Laghari, a Pakistani living in America and studying to become a lawyer. The couple marries, moves to Pakistan, and Sonia converts to Islam. She bears Farid a son and two daughters, yet she feels like an outsider, unable to acclimate to Farid’s family’s rigid social hierarchy.
In the 1970s, Sonia flees Pakistan and abandons her husband and children to travel through Soviet Central Asia disguised as a Muslim boy. After her journey she writes a controversial book, which includes details about her visits to holy places forbidden to women. Because of her blasphemous actions, she is condemned by Muslim leaders and shunned by some family members. She eventually returns to the United States and later arranges to rescue her son, Theo, from a life of violence by bringing him to America.
Fast forward to the present. Theodore (Theo) Abdul Bailey Laghari is a special ops soldier being treated at Walter Reed Medical Hospital, where he is recovering from wounds suffered in a botched military mission in Afghanistan. His father Farid is a lawyer and legal scholar now living in Washington, D.C. Because of Theo’s background and multilingual abilities, he is a valuable asset assigned to the Tactical Intelligence Support Detachment at Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia.
In the middle of the night, Theo receives a call from his mother telling him that she is coming back to Pakistan to attend a conflict resolution symposium. Theo has a bad feeling about her return. His feelings are warranted when the peacekeeping group’s convoy is ambushed and the conference attendees are abducted by masked terrorists.
Among the attendees is an American billionaire. The terrorists demand ransom for his safe release, and while they await the money, they threaten to behead one captive for each Muslim war fatality. Theo works feverishly to save his mother. At the same time, Sonia must use all of her knowledge and tricks to save herself and the rest of the hostages from their captors. With the clock ticking and the threat of brutal deaths and widespread destruction imminent, Theo and Sonia are forced to face danger head-on, along with the bitter truths that have haunted them for decades.
THE GOOD SON is an ambitious work of fiction set on a global stage with a huge cast of characters. Michael Gruber unflinchingly portrays in them a wide range of human behaviors --- cowardice, cruelty, courage, transvestitism, homosexuality, bestiality, loyalty, love, torture, ambition, and betrayal --- while illuminating an intriguing situation in one of the world’s most unsettled regions. While some lengthy passages of narrative and dialogue slow down the action of the story, they serve to educate readers on varied religious beliefs and political ideologies.
THE GOOD SON is a complex novel about politics, war, terrorism, religion, nation building, human behavior, and family relationships. Gruber's rich details, thoughtful descriptions, and serpentine plot should appeal to enthusiasts of political novels, especially those who want to gain insight into Pakistani politics, its culture and sensibilities.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on April 26, 2011