Karan Mahajan

National Book Award Finalist
Young Lions Fiction Award

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Karan Mahajan


“Mahajan’s facility for gorgeous turns of phrase produces many passages of vivid, startling power.” —The New Yorker

“Even when handling the darkest material or picking through confounding emotional complexities, Mahajan maintains a light touch and a clarity of vision. He is particularly adept at capturing the quicksilver shifts of mood that accompany states of high emotion.” —The London Review of Books

“Karan Mahajan is a writer with great command and acute and original insights. He offers what few can: a stereoscopic view of reality in dark, contemporary times.” —Rachel Kushner

Karan Mahajan was born in 1984 and grew up in New Delhi, India. He is the author of two novels, The Association of Small Bombs (Viking, 2016) and Family Planning (Harper, 2008). The Association of Small Bombs is an expansive and deeply humane novel about the effects of terrorism on victims and perpetrators, that is at once groundbreaking in its empathy, dazzling in its acuity, and ambitious in scope. Adam Johnson praised the book calling it “Urgent and masterful, this novel shows us how bystander, bomber, victim, and survivor will forever share a patch of scorched ground.”

The Association of Small Bombs was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, Bard Fiction Prize, and Anisfield-Wolf Award. It was named a Best Book of 2016 by Esquire, New York Magazine, Good Magazine, Buzzfeed, and the Huffington Post; and The New York Times chose it as one of the Ten Best Books of 2016.

Family Planning, Mahajan’s first novel, is a portrait of New Delhi, ‘in all its explosive fecundity” (The Washington Post Book World). The New York Post calls it a “spot-on satire of Indian family life, globalization, and intergenerational strife.” Family Planning was a finalist for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and was published in nine countries.

Mahajan has been named Best of Young American Novelists by Granta. His writing has appeared in many journals including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker Online, The Believer, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the anthology Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction. He has worked as an editor in San Francisco, a consultant on economic and urban planning issues for the New York City government, and a researcher in Bangalore.

A graduate of Stanford University and the Michener Center for Writers, he currently lives in Austin, Texas and is at work on his third novel.

Karan Mahajan’s Website


Karan Mahajan was born in 1984 and grew up in New Delhi, India. He the author of The Association of Small Bombs, a finalist for the National Book Award, and winner of the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, the Bard Fiction Prize. It was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of 2016 by The New York Times. His first novel, Family Planning, was a finalist for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and was published in nine countries. Karan’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the anthology Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction. He has been named Best of Young American Novelists by Granta. He currently lives in Austin, Texas and is at work on his third novel.


THE ASSOCIATION OF SMALL BOMBS (2016)

“The Association of Small Bombs is a wondrous, devastating novel—packed with small wonders of beauty and heartbreak that are impossible to resist.” —Dinaw Mengestu

The Association of Small Bombs is an expansive and deeply humane novel that is at once groundbreaking in its empathy, dazzling in its acuity, and ambitious in scope. When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb—one of the many “small” bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world—detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys, to the devastation of their parents. Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb. After a brief stint at university in America, Mansoor returns to Delhi, where his life becomes entangled with the mysterious and charismatic Ayub, a fearless young activist whose own allegiances and beliefs are more malleable than Mansoor could imagine. Woven among the story of the Khuranas and the Ahmeds is the gripping tale of Shockie, a Kashmiri bomb maker who has forsaken his own life for the independence of his homeland. Karan Mahajan writes brilliantly about the effects of terrorism on victims and perpetrators, proving himself to be one of the most provocative and dynamic novelists of his generation.

FAMILY PLANNING (2008)

“A laugh-out-loud novel that immerses you in its geography and its satire.” —The Dylan Thomas Prize committee

Rakesh Ahuja, a Government Minister in New Delhi, is beset by problems: thirteen children and another on the way; a wife who mourns the loss of her favorite TV star; and a teenaged son with some really strong opinions about family planning. To make matters worse, looming over this comical farrago are secrets—both personal and political—that threaten to push the Ahuja household into disastrous turmoil. Following father and son as they blunder their way across the troubled landscape of New Delhi, Karan Mahajan brilliantly captures the frenetic pace of India’s capital city to create a searing portrait of modern family life.


My Struggle with American Small Talk – The New Yorker

15 years after 9/11, New York is more vibrant than ever – Hindustan Times

THE ASSOCIATION OF SMALL BOMBS (novel excerpt)

Soon after Shaukat “Shockie” Guru received the order to carry out the blast, he went to his alley and washed his face under the open tap outside the building. Then he entered his room and sat on the bed, brooding. The room was small, foggy with dust, ripe with the smell of chemical reagents (there had been construction recently in the alley), poorly painted. The sole decoration was a poster of a slick-bellied Urmila Matondkar from Rangeela. Two charpais lay separated by a moat of terrazzo. The mattress under him was thin. He felt the coir through the clotted cotton.

After a while, he went back into the alley, where afternoon was announcing itself in the form of clothes hung out to dry between buildings and the particular yawning honking that comes from cars when the sun is high overhead, dwarfing human activity, and he went to the public call office and called home. It was his ritual to call home before setting out on a mission. His mother thought he was a student in Kathmandu—at least she made him believe she thought that—and he wanted to give her an opportunity to save him. She is the only one who has the right to decide whether I live or die, he often thought when he smelled milk boiling in the shops—yes, that was the smell he associated with his mother and with Kathmandu. It gave Kathmandu a sweet, plasticky flavor. Of all natural substances, milk has the most artificial smell.

Shockie was the leading bomb maker of the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Force, which operated out of exile in Nepal. An avuncular-looking man of 26, he had catlike green eyes, wet lips, and curly hair already balding on the vast egg of his head. His arms were fat rods under his kurta. In the past four years, he had killed dozens of Indians in revenge for the military oppression in Kashmir, expanding the JKIF’s “theater of violence,” as the newspapers called it.

Now he pushed the receiver close to his ear in the PCO booth. Deep in a crater of silence on the other side of the Himalayas, the phone rang. The phone was a drill seeking out life. “You’re sick,” he imagined saying to his mother. “Should I come?”