31 HOURS

Masha Hamilton

A woman in New York awakens knowing, as deeply as a mother’s blood can know, that her grown son is in danger. She has not heard from him in weeks. His name is Jonas. His girlfriend, Vic, doesn’t know what she has done wrong, but Jonas won’t answer his cell phone. We soon learn that Jonas is isolated in a safe-house apartment in New York City, pondering his conversion to Islam and his experiences training in Pakistan, preparing for the violent action he has been instructed to take in 31 hours. Jonas’s absence from the lives of those who love him causes a cascade of events,

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A woman in New York awakens knowing, as deeply as a mother’s blood can know, that her grown son is in danger. She has not heard from him in weeks. His name is Jonas. His girlfriend, Vic, doesn’t know what she has done wrong, but Jonas won’t answer his cell phone. We soon learn that Jonas is isolated in a safe-house apartment in New York City, pondering his conversion to Islam and his experiences training in Pakistan, preparing for the violent action he has been instructed to take in 31 hours. Jonas’s absence from the lives of those who love him causes a cascade of events, and as the novel moves through the streets and subways of New York, we come to know intimately the lives of its characters. We also learn to feel deeply the connections and disconnections that occur between young people and their parents not only in this country but in the Middle East as well. Carried by Hamilton’s highly-lauded prose, this story about the helplessness of those who cannot contact a beloved young man who is on a devastatingly confused path is compelling on the most human level. In our world, when a family loses track of an idealistic son, an entire city could be in danger.

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  • Unbridled Books
  • Hardcover
  • September 2009
  • 9781932961836

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$24.95

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About Masha Hamilton

 Masha Hamilton is the author of three previous novels. Staircase of a Thousand Steps (2001), a Booksense pick by independent booksellers and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection; The Distance Between Us (2004), named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal; and The Camel Bookmobile (2007), also a Booksense pick. Booksense called the latest novel an excellent book club selection, Booklist called it “a poignant, ennobling, and buoyant tale of risks and rewards, surrender and sacrifice,” and the New York Times said: “Hamilton makes us see how much is really at stake in a poverty-stricken place where every possession carries the weight of significance.”

She worked as a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press for five years in the Middle East, where she covered the intefadeh, the peace process and the partial Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Then she spent five years in Moscow, where she was a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a newspaper column, Postcard from Moscow, and reported for NBC/Mutual Radio. She wrote about Kremlin politics as well as life for average Russians under Gorbachev and Yeltsin during the coup and collapse of the Soviet Union. She reported from Afghanistan in 2004, and returned in 2008. In 2006, she traveled in Kenya to research The Camel Bookmobile and to interview street kids in Nairobi and drought and famine victims in the isolated northeast.

A Brown University graduate, she has been awarded fiction fellowships from Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She teaches for Gotham Writers’ Workshop and has also taught at the 92nd Street Y in New York City and at a number of writers’ workshops around the country. She is a licensed shiatsu practitioner and is currently studying nuad phaen boran, Thai traditional massage. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Praise

“Equal parts thriller and poetry, Masha Hamilton’s 31 Hours had me turning pages late into the night… ” —Meg Waite Clayton, author of the novel The Wednesday Sisters

Discussion Questions

Carol struggles with how involved she can get as a mother when she’s worried about her young adult son. How does parenting change as children become young adults?

Do you think she does too much, too little, or enough?

What factors contribute to Jonas finding himself in the circumstances that he does as the novel begins? Is it possible to feel sympathetic toward him?

The New York City Subway is a force in the novel. How do different characters perceive the subway?

The diverse meaning of prayer is one of the novel’s themes. Sonny Hurt, the subway panhandler, views the subway as a holy place, a kind of church. And both Jonas and Mara try to pray in unusual ways. What role does prayer plan in tying together Jonas and the other characters?

Jonas and Masoud both have somewhat distant relationships with their fathers. How might this have impacted their character development and the story’s outcome?

What would have happened if Jonas had been able to reach Vic by cell phone sometime during those 31 hours?

What do you think will happen to the relationship between Carol and Jake after the novel ends? In the final chapters, Jonas leaves nails behind. What is the significance of that act?