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Jihadi: A Love Story

Published Date: 2nd November 2015

Available in


December 2015
February 2016



A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist whose annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment but who is the real terrorist. Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments, Jihadi: A Love Story is an intelligent thriller that asks big questions.

Complex, intriguing and intricately woven, this is an astonishing debut that explores the nature of good and evil alongside notions of nationalism, terrorism and fidelity, and, above all, the fragility of the human mind.



‘Smart and searing … a deeply felt depiction of morally fraught choices that result in devastating outcomes’ Publishers Weekly

‘Toropov writes an utterly fantastic tale, which does so many different things so well. The author captures the very essence of the “war on terror” and its psychological and moral complexities. It is a book of our time’ Edward Wilson

Jihadi is a gripping tale of a clash of cultures and individuals told with panache, dazzling wit and remorseless intelligence. More please’ William Ryan

‘If it was Yusuf Toropov’s intention to leave us pondering good and evil, right and wrong, love and loss, wondering who the good guys were, he certainly succeeded. I know one thing for sure, he’s a wonderful writer and a born storyteller’ Mari Hannah

‘Intriguing, thought-provoking and wildly original’ Steve Mosby

‘An exquisitely drawn debut, that twists and turns to its stunning conclusion. With echoes of Bellow, Pynchon and Kafka, Toropov’s tale is a modern classic that challenges our perceptions at every turn’ Cal Moriarty

‘Intelligently written and multi-layered … with its gorgeous language, rich detail and gentle wit, Jihadi is simply enchanting’ Qaisra Shahraz

 ‘A bold and skilfully executed novel that bravely tackles a complex and timely subject in accomplished and precise prose’ Frankie Gaffney

‘Timely and spookily prescient, Yusuf Toropov’s Jihadi: A Love Story is a magical mystery tour through a labyrinth of competing ambitions and motivations, wherein truth and justice are matters for interpretation’ Texas Booklover

‘It is not an easy story. It is, at times, complex and demanding. Some parts are harrowing. But two things grabbed me at that early stage: the quality of the writing, which is quite outstanding, and the intriguing setup. A US intelligence agent, accused of terrorism, is held in a secret prison. The decoding of his memoir is the starting point for a novel that has as its theme the very nature of truth and how it is perceived’ Safie Maken Finlay



Yusuf Toropov is an American Muslim writer. He’s the author or co-author of a number of nonfiction books, including Shakespeare for Beginners. His full-length play An Undivided Heart was selected for a workshop production at the National Playwrights Conference, and his one-act play The Job Search was produced off-Broadway. Jihadi: A Love Story, which reached the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, is his first novel. He currently lives in Northern Ireland.

Online Reviews

‘It’s typical of a Modernist novel in some respects, tearing on the existentialist heartstrings without being overtly sentimental or heavy-handed. The metanarrative elements, meanwhile, are straight out of a postmodern playbook. It’s a wonderfully poetic read. A novel for our times’ Ragtaggiggagon

Interview in A Year of Indie Debuts

‘Jihadi, by Yusuf Toropov, is not an easy book to get into but will reward the persistent reader with the satisfaction of having consumed an impressive work of literature. The narrative hooks brought to mind the Fibonnaci sequence. After a slow start the plot gathered pace until it was necessary to pause from time to time to absorb the multitude of ideas being conveyed. It is a layered and nuanced study of how society may be manipulated to further a cause’ Never Imitate

Brilliant guest post by Yusuf Toropov on the Murder Is Everywhere site: The Trouble with ISIS

This is a stylish first novel written by an accomplished wordsmith. There are so many questions without answers and even at the end you are left wondering how much or little was true, and if it was, did the validity of that truth depend on the individual person’s experience?’ Breakaway Reviewers

‘This isn’t a quick read. This is a book that you gift yourself the time to read. In our age of scrolling screens and instant gratification this work makes you stop and be in the moment. You may find the writing daunting at first. I did. But then I relaxed with it and just let the author lead me on this journey of change. I am an average guy with no university education and I don’t profess to liking every book I read but this one is outstanding. The writing is challenging yet poetically beautiful without being intimidating. Anyone who is sick of quick flicks and same old storylines will love this book. Put down your phone and engage your brain with what is surely a Booker Prize novel yet to be discovered’ Ian Patrick

‘A hauntingly mesmeric read, to be honest it took some getting into but boy I am glad I stayed with it, it will toy with all your emotions as the story unfolds, a story character driven as much as plot driven, the author has created as diverse a set of characters as I will probably meet all year, with twists and turns aplenty. Can’t wait to see what the author will come up with next’ Andy Wormald

‘The novel is told from the perspective of a dead narrator – you’re hooked already really, aren’t you? – but is annotated by a second narrator throughout who introduces opinions and speculations about the memoir that we are reading. The book reads as the memories and experiences of a man, now deceased, who was accused of terrorism, while the second narrator – a psychologist – is picking apart his manuscript for evidence. Through this complicated narrative construction Toropov picks at some of literature’s, and indeed the world’s, more eye-watering topics – feminism, terrorism, Islam – and he communicates each of these areas through simply stunning prose’ Charley Barnes, Madhatter Reviews

‘Unquestionably an important book for our times, a read that plunges you into the icy water of the costs and failures of “the war on terror” … There are so many complex layers and allusions, that you probably need to read the book two or three times to get all the nuances’ Finding Time To Write

Wonderful interview with Yusuf Toropov, and review of Jihadi

Lovely guest post by Yusuf, as part of the Jihadi Blog Tour

‘It is unquestionably an important book for our times, a read that plunges you into the icy water of the costs and failures of ‘the war on terror’ Finding Time to Write

‘Liddell’s tale is not only the love story referred to in the title. It also recounts the tales of US marine Mike Mazzoni, who Fatima and another woman see urinating on a copy of the Koran, and Abu Islam, the self-proclaimed ‘father of Islam’ who leads a sect of white-clad religious fundamentalists, which grows in size to over a hundred thousand. Both Liddell and Firestone are quick to point out that there is no way that Liddell could have known about the events he retells, which adds to the sense of discord and chaos running through the two narratives … a highly-original, engaging and thought-provoking literary thriller’ Crime Fiction Lover

‘I can really say that I’ve never read a book like this before. It’s not as easy read but then I don’t think it should be. This is not an easy subject but is treated with such care and attention that I was drawn in. I’ve never jotted so many questions and comments down when reading a book before. There are still questions I have, things I am thinking about. Now that is a book worth reading. A book to interpret for yourself’ The Booktrail

‘Jihadi will probably be one of those novels that I will be thinking about long after I finished it … hearbreaking’ Steph’s Book Blog

Interview with Yusuf Toropov, and link to review: Live Many Lives

‘The prose is wonderfully written and beautifully observed. I found myself having to stop reading on more than one occasion, such was the vividness of the picture painted with the authors words’ Bibliophile Book Club

‘From the very first chapter I knew I was in for a good read. Toropov has written the start of this book in a way that will instantly grab you and make you not want to put it down. His writing style is something I have never come across before, and I loved how Toropov was intertwining two different stories throughout – the annotator psychologist and the writer himself’ Published Moments

‘Pantser or Plotter?’ Guest post at CrimeThrillerGirl

‘Novels like this do not come along that often. It is one of those that some will give up on and others will dismiss with a glance, but I would say – don’t be one of those people. Jihadi: A Love Story is worth the time and effort it takes to kick in, it will reward you with unexpected and extraordinarily emotional prose, a heart stopping story and characters you will never ever forget’ Liz Loves Books

Guest Post: Shots magazine: Are Thrillers Literature?

‘In his debut novel Jihadi: A Love Story, Yusuf Toropov takes on some of the most urgent and complex issues facing our civilisation. Terrorism, the clash of ideologies, the role of women; so many moral dilemmas on a global scale set the stage for a thriller that at heart – as its title suggests – also captures love amongst the wreckage’ Claire Thinking

‘The deeply provocative title leads us into an intelligent, complicated, difficult and compelling story. Yusuf Toropov has created a novel which isn’t easy to read but remains captivating throughout. Take the time to read it, think about it and savour it – it has the makings of a modern classic’ Louise Reviews

Beowulf and Isis: Grendel is alive and well, bloody and burning books. Guest piece by Yusuf Toropov, Irish Times

Jihadi is intriguing, addictive, brutal, gripping, tragic and brilliant, with several strands that come together seamlessly by the end of the book. It’s written in an almost-rhythmic way that enabled me to get inside the characters’ heads. Yet it left me unsure who to trust or believe. Maybe the true account isn’t really the true account at all. And will anyone ever know the truth?’ Off the Shelf Books

Guest Post: JIHADI: A LOVE STORY and the Bechdel Test At Chouett

‘But…. every now and then that rare thing will come along – a book that is so unarguably great that you find yourself telling everyone they should read it regardless of their usual choice of paperback writer. Jihadi; A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov is just such a book’ Mumbling About Music

‘It’s darkly funny in places, deeply shocking in others, thought-provoking and beautifully constructed. Yusuf’s writing challenges our perceptions of good and evil and makes you think long after you’ve closed the pages.  Who is right, who is wrong, who is the real terrorist?’ Espresso Coco

‘I’ve been left mulling things over, thinking about circumstances and the characters, long after I’ve finished the book. That, to me, can only be a good thing’ Reading Room with a View

‘In his debut novel Jihadi: A Love Story, Yusuf Toropov takes on some of the most urgent and complex issues facing our civilisation. Terrorism, the clash of ideologies, the role of women; so many moral dilemmas on a global scale set the stage for a thriller that at heart – as its title suggests – also captures love amongst the wreckage’ Claire Thinking

‘Like almost everything else in this multi-layered thriller about the war on terror, we have to keep on turning the pages to uncover the truth. While I’m inclined to agree that, as Fatima says, Stupidity has taken over the process of government in both countries, there’s nothing stupid in this complex tale of compromised morality and the fragility of the human mind’ Annethology

‘This is not a book you will read in just one read, you will have to stop and absorb all the turbulent things you’ve read and how the writer has created a maze, and where piece by piece everything starts to fit’ Varietats

‘No doubt at all the Jihadi is a great and thought provoking book – and that we will be hearing a lot more about and from Yusuf’ Trip Fiction

‘Every single character within the book is shrewdly drawn, causing a gamut of emotions within the reader themselves, from the appalling actions of Mazzoni, an American marine, the religious rabble rousing of Abu Islam, the road to conversion of our main narrator Thelonius himself, and my favourite character Fatima, a good Islamic woman whose personal experiences lead her on an unexpected but completely justified path to revenge and retribution. Between all the protagonists we bear witness to the very best and worst of human behaviour, their prejudices and goodness, and how the predatory nature of some individuals wreaks havoc on the innocent, and undermines our faith in each other. This blend of assured characterisation to pass comment on issues that ultimately affect us all is extremely cleverly done, not with browbeating and preaching, but with a thought-provoking and subtle prod for us to consider our own responses to these weighty issues’ Raven Crime Reads

‘’I have accompanied this complex, challenging and thought-provoking novel for at least part of its journey – from my first reading to the published version, helping Karen edit the manuscript and even seeing the final typeset draft to bed with the printer. And each time I have read it, each time I have thought about a chapter, each time I have considered how a sentence could be improved, suggested an alteration or proposed something less or something more, my understanding of Yusuf’s powerful insights has deepened.
For the complexity of Jihadi is the complexity of the West’s relationship with the Islamic world, and the Islamic world’s relationship with the West. It is the complexity of truth; and of truth-telling. And, as the novel’s subtitle suggests, it is the complexity of love. Progressing through the patchwork of scenes, flashbacks and accounts, the reader can only guess at who among Thelonius, Becky, Fatima, and gun-ho US Marine, Mike Mazzoni, is describing accurately and authentically the events of the novel. In fact, the reader is left doubting the possibility that any one of them – indeed anyone at all – can tell the truth of an incident with complete, unbiased truth.’ West Camel

‘A story that kicks, bites and screams, and makes you feel sorry for people who get mixed up in so much crap. If you feel up to it, follow Thelonius Lidell. See how he ended up where he is now’ Paul Kater

Interview with Yusuf Toropov at Eurodrama

‘The story of the inevitable clash of these two powers is compelling, complex and highly original’ Crime Fiction Lover

‘All in all, this is an absolutely terrific novel which takes us to some very dark places as it warns us that ‘if we don’t slow down, we’re looking at nothing but war, all of us, for a very long time’. And yet it is ultimately hopeful – and ultimately, as promised, a love story. A political thriller for our times that is a worthy successor to Graham Greene and John Le Carré, and one that will stay with you for a very long time. Highly, highly recommended’ Virginia Moffat for Peace News

‘There are times when you come across a novel that really takes your breath away and Jihadi: A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov is one such book. Many will look at the title and may be confused by the title. Do not be deterred. Read on! This is a novel that starts slowly and gathers pace and hits the reader like an express train. Persist with this and it delivers on all fronts and the writing from Toropov is nothing short of exceptional’ Last Word Book Review

‘Jihadi, A Love Story. This novel is groundbreaking. Heart breaking. It’s a story of our time, of mental health, corruption and misunderstanding. Strength and frailty walk hand in hand and philosophy meets religion. The way the book is written is totally unique and you’ll be thinking about it for a long time after – always the sign of a great book. A manuscript within a story with references to the greatest band of all time. It’s a love story. It’s a life story’ J M Hewitt (author) on Goodreads

‘When I first began to read this book, I have to admit it took me a while to understand what was happening. I was certainly forced to wake up my brain and concentrate. However, once I had acclimatised myself to the format and the style of writing, everything started to fall into place and I soon became engrossed in the drama, finding myself eager to fit together all the separate pieces of information drip fed into the story, in order to finally solve the puzzle. As Becky says in her notes: “Victory does not come on the battlefield. It comes to the side that creates and sustains the most persuasive solution to the puzzle.” Yusuf has cleverly woven several threads into one, following each of his many characters simultaneously as their destinies gradually become intertwined, hurtling together towards an inevitable collision. In war, nobody is entirely innocent, yet nobody is entirely to blame.’ Sheila Rawlings

Absolutely brilliant, a read with a labyrinth of complexities demanding the perusers razor sharp focus and intelligence.A challenging read well worth your time and effort. Masterfully crafted, reeling you in from the onset leaving you a mess at the end – no doubt you will be digesting what you have read long after the conclusion. A riveting, frightening yarn. Yusuf Toropov will all certitude is a master storyteller, nothing less than impressive.

My Book Shelf – 7 June 2016



JIHADI features unreliable narration, and a brilliant central character, Theolonius Liddell, whose life experiences have resulted in both a need to excel and in mental illness. Much of the beauty of the novel for the reader is trying to discern fact from fiction within the novel’s narrative – although this great work operates on many levels, and the thrilling story can readily be taken at face value, and read again for all of the wonderful nuance, strong thematic resonances, and the incredible style. Ragtag Giggagon

‘If you can keep up as the memoirs appear to unravel, and adjust to the complex and bold narrative innovations that Toropov manipulates, Jihadi is a novel that will haunt you. Above all else, Toropov has created an incredibly original and engaging novel that offers a damning insight into the complex emotional and political situations that are currently building in the Middle East. Unsettlingly, his observations then look forward, revealing a glimpse into a future of terror that could be.’Cuckoo Writers