The Unknown Terrorist

by Richard Flanagan (Grove Press, $24)

The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan’s blistering diatribe on exploitation, xenophobia, and post-9/11 paranoia is all about an Australian stripper mistaken for a terrorist by authorities newly empowered by a down-under analog to the Patriot Act and, more disastrously, an aging telejournalist angling for one last, sensational scoop. Flanagan’s prose can feel didactic, with over-explicit descriptions of his character’s thoughts — and sometimes this reads more like a lecture than a thriller — but his indignation is ferocious and the results are occasionally chilling. I may have missed subtleties related to Sydney’s culture and/or politics, but what resonates most is the protagonist’s heartbreak at realizing not only that the people around her are indifferent to suffering and injustice, but that she has lived her own life at a similar emotional remove. That distance, she learns, is a killer.