Kamal is a hitman, taking jobs for those involved in the Bosnian underbelly. Apart from his brief interactions with those he works for, Kamal is alone in the world, having lost his family during the war and having been betrayed by the man he loved.
When Kamal discovers that there is a plan to kidnap the son of the man who hurt him, Kamal loses control, killing the mercenary hired and appointing himself as the captor. Yet, in following the plan of torture laid out by his predecessor, Kamal finds himself committing new acts of depravity, all whilst hoping for revenge against the man he wanted a future with.
Backdoor Politics is dark, gritty, and contains scenes of torture, rape, and murder, which may be a trigger for some readers. This was an uncomfortable story to read and C.L. Mustafic does not shy away from her use of detail — even when I wished she would. An example of this is following Kamal’s cold-blooded murder of his lover and fellow hired gun when he dismembers the body to dispose of it. Mustafic’s description made me want to turn my head away, hoping that when I looked back, it would be over, but I think it’s more important that Kamal’s ruthlessness and immorality are revealed. As much as I detested the many acts which Kamal commits, I found I could not hate him in the way I thought I should. There are times during which he has Zijad in captivity that even he questions the plan of depravity, but this does not stop him.
The only breaks that Mustafic allows her reader are when Kamal’s memories overcome him — but these are not always good. In choosing to set her stories in Bosnia, Mustafic cannot ignore that her adult characters would have grown up in a war zone, experiencing horrors that many of her readers will not be able to comprehend. Kamal’s memories remind us that at a young age he was starving, watching people from his own village die daily, and witnessing stuff of nightmares. Matched with losing the man he loved, I think this is the main reason why I could not hate Kamal. I hoped for some redemption from him though — but I whether this comes or not, I won’t say.
Backdoor Politics is written in third-person, but focused on Kamal, apart from the epilogue. As much as I enjoy first-person narration, Mustafic’s choice of writing style worked for me because it means that the story is driven by actions rather than emotions. As readers, we do not want to connect with a character like Kamal and as Mustafic comments in her author’s note, “the story’s focus would have changed had I switched point of view to include (Zijad’s) experiences.” I also think that to have given us Zijad’s reactions would have made Backdoor Politics even more traumatic; the information we already have enough to know that this young man is in pain, humiliated, and confused.
Mustafic refers to the politics of Bosnia within the title of her novel and though Kamal notes that the presidential election year is “the reason he’s been so busy,” we are aware that his actions on this occasion are driven by personal revenge rather than political or financial gain, though this is the reason for the original contract on Zijad, whose father is a prominent politician. However, for me, this is more a story about the human condition, the ways in which we connect with others, either by fear, control, sex or love, and our subsequent treatment of them. Despite all the horrifying acts Mustafic details, I still think there is an important message communicated here.
Backdoor Politics is admittedly not the kind of book I would choose to read normally and I feel that I now need a light and fluffy romance to delve into, but Mustafic is a genuinely talented writer who made me want to continue and finish Backdoor Politics, despite my disgust.
I do recommend this novel, just not for the fainthearted.