Check It Out: ‘Almost Surely Dead’ by Amina Akhtar

By Wendy Thomas

Dunia Ahmed was waiting for her train on a New York City platform when a man she’d never met tried to throw her onto the tracks. When she screamed and was rescued by bystanders, her assailant jumped onto the tracks just as the train arrived. The shocking opening scene of “Almost Surely Dead” by Amina Akhtar is just the beginning of the startling twists in this psychological thriller. 

After the man tries to push Dunia in front of the train, there is another attempt on her life, then another, each one followed by the suicide of the attacker. The police detective on her case can find no links between Dunia and her assailants. Could it be her ex-fiance who is stalking her? Or the family friend who coincidentally shows up whenever something bad happens? She doesn’t know who to trust, and she’s not even sure she can trust herself.

The story is told asynchronously, with transcripts of a true-crime podcast interspersed with scenes from Dunia’s childhood and her life at the time of the subway attack. It’s not just any true-crime podcast, though. It’s a podcast about Dunia’s disappearance, which happened over a year before they began broadcasting. 

The glimpses of her past paint an ominous picture, but even more disturbing are the gaps in the story. Her father passed away when Dunia was 5, and her mother blamed her, claiming that she was a pagal, a demon. Dunia was sheltered from her Desi community and targeted by those who thought her sleepwalking and self-defensive behaviors were signs of evil. Now a successful pharmacist, Dunia confronts memories of her youth brought to the forefront by her mother’s death. And she’s started sleepwalking again. The only things keeping her tethered to the here-and-now are her best friend, Kendra, and a new friendship with a wealthy investor in Kendra’s company.

The transcripts of the “Disappearance of Dunia Ahmed” podcast add layers to the mystery, and various interviews portray Dunia as the unreliable narrator of her own life story. Add to that the dark bedtime stories told to her by her father about jinn and how they abduct children without their knowledge and this novel becomes all the more chilling. Part magic, part horror, entirely riveting, check out “Almost Surely Dead” at a Denver Public Library branch near you.

Getting ready for summer? We are! Denver Public Library’s Summer of Adventure program starts on June 1 and encourages kids to read, make and explore over the summer months to help curb learning loss. Learn more at summerofadventure.org.

Wendy Thomas is a librarian at the Smiley Branch Library. When not reading or recommending books, you can find her hiking with her dogs.

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