The Intern’s Handbook by Shane Kuhn

Interns handbook coverUnpaid intern discontent was surely going to give rise to the dark thriller Shane Kuhn has written. In fact, it’s surprising that something similar has not already played out on one of the many serial crime shows. The book outlines the last assignment of an intern who is really a hired assassin sent to kill one of the partners at a prestigious New York law firm.

As 25-year-old John Lago prepares to retire his role as assassin, he outlines everything he learned from founder of Human Resources, Inc. (HR, Inc.), Bob and the countless assignments John completed in seven years. HR, Inc., posing as an office intern placement agency, is really a training organization and source for hired assassins.

John writes this handbook partly for nostalgia and partly as a service to the assassins just beginning their careers. Though “not part of the new hire welcome packet . . . there’s a good chance this handbook will save your life.” Through the novel readers discover just why John became an assassin, and what is driving this last assignment to be so unusual.

While at first the book seems like an unpaid interns fantasy written after hours, fueled by Top Ramen and Red Bull, the story line works because of Kuhn’s diligence to maintaining a semblance of probability. For example, why does John have to retire?

“According to Bob, (25) is the cutoff point at which people begin to question anyone who would be willing to work for free. And I quote: ‘even if people believe you are still an intern at twenty five, you will call attention to yourself as a loser who is way behind in his or her career path. And calling attention to yourself is a death sentence.’”

While some of the rules in the book work toward the assassin’s favor, of blending in and becoming like the many other forgettable interns, these same rules could be a probable list of do’s an don’ts for real world interns. Kuhn even spends time outlining the rules of clothing choice, “. . . brown sparks the smallest neurological response of any color in the spectrum. It also elicits feelings of reliability and security, traits that are critical to gaining access and trust.”

The realism doesn’t stop at his choice of LensCrafters or how to make the best cup of coffee; he delves deeply into the psyche of why John Lago and the other interns were selected for HR, Inc. Many of the people who work for HR, Inc., like John, have a history of neglect and violence.

“All the social workers, corrections counselors, and psych doctors . . . have classified you as dangerously anti-social . . . but at HR, Inc., everything that made you a pariah will now make you a professional.”

This description perfectly sets up the relationships John forms in the book and how he even narrates with a semi detached stoicism, sprinkled with stories of previous assignments, hinting at the thrill of the kill developed over the years.

The fight scenes, while a bit clunky in their style, are not nearly as gruesome as scenes in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. The level of violence mixed with personal intrigue strikes a great balance for readers who want a thrilling ride in the world of assassins, without the kind of images that make you stop sleeping.

– I originally published this review on The NY Journal of Books.

Author(s): Shane Kuhn
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher/Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 288

Rebel Music by Hisham D. Aidi

Rebel Music CoverHisham D. Aidi presents over a century of evolution in Muslim culture around the world, tracking both the local variations in the organic environments and the transnational movement of ideas.

Rebel Music is a dialogue between disciplines and fields generally kept separate in public conversations. This dialogue creates the necessary space to examine the interplay between music and religion, especially for Muslim youth, both having been used to explain and blame community unrest.

“Music has long been used by youth to protest, proclaim identity, build community, and interpret the world.” Through extensive interviews and retracing of musical trade routes, Aidi reminds readers how artists, theologians, and politicians at their best are distillers of public discourse, giving definition to conversations and constructing new community visions. Once that vision is constructed and distributed either through new policy, a sermon, or a hot new beat, it defines and again shifts the public discourse.

With strong links to Moorish Spain, Brazil frequently revives the cultural icon of the mythical mooress. In the first section of Rebel Music, the threads he weaves between continents and time periods is striking and sometimes surprising.  In just three pages, Aidi connects Lebanese-Colombian pop star Shakira, Salvador Allende, Hugo Chavez, and Donald Rumsfeld’s as each contributing to the post 9/11 discourse. Vignettes also verge on the surreal when Aidi tells how “in Kyrgyzstan, where Islam was suppressed for seventy years of Soviet rule, viewers saw O Clone [a Brazilian telenovela] as an introductory course on Islam.”

Rebel Music then moves north, tracing the many connections made through the leaders and music of the American civil-rights movement, the mass conversion of African Americans to Islam, and the development of the Nation of Islam. Aidi includes how the movement was influenced by foreign born African Muslims, adding a rich layer to an otherwise well known narrative. He deftly tracks the many routes the movement created during the forties, fifties, and sixties through today.

When the conversation remains within globally recognized movements, the reader is fixated on exactly where Aidi is about to draw the next narrative. However, when the conversation turns to lesser-known movements, as in the section evaluating Gnawa music, readers can be lost in the specifics and long narratives. For this reason, the last third of the book takes some work to move through. By blending and creating a conversation between otherwise unconnected fields of global music, religion, and politics readers without knowledge in one or more fields may also be lost in the complexity of the cross overs.

Aidi omits in-text citation, obscuring whether his conclusions are based on well-supported evidence or his personal conclusions. This dramatically decreases the effect of Rebel Music to be used as a primary source for people working in the field. Further, by using whole page citations he obscures the source of claims made as facts. If he is presenting the book as academically sourced, listing key terms in the index, why did he chose not to do the same for his citations. If authors continue to use endnotes without in-text markers, notes will lose their usefulness and it will be harder to hold author’s accountable for their claims.

Rebel Music does offer the field of religious studies, politics, and anthropology, clear examples of how a community is shaped by the local atmosphere to either become militant or not. In doing so he avoids creating values based comparison and instead attempts to illustrate the various local and global factors of each community. For example, he draws an important distinction between European and North American Muslim communities. “It’s debatable whether the situation of European Muslims, a largely rural and working class-migration, is even comparable to that of an affluent American Muslim migration; a more apt comparison would be Latino immigration to the U.S.”

Aidi parallels the diversity of thought and development of global Islam, with the globalizing effect and diversity of music as a vehicle for youth discourse. By comparing Brazilian engagement with European, North American and North African engagements, Rebel Music exemplifies how the community is as much impacted by religion, music, and politics as the community impacts them.

Rebel Music’s density begs for multiple readings yet can be a great read for people who are simply curious about the interplay of music, Islam, and local and global politics. The clear narrative thread never leaves readers stranded, bringing us through a global overview of race, empire and the new Muslim youth culture.

I originally published this review on the NY Journal of Books

Release Date: March 27, 2014
Publisher/Imprint: Pantheon
Pages: 432