The Sum of All Fears is a hold-your-breath novel from Tom Clancy featuring Jack Ryan, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Accustomed to Cold War hostilities, neither America and its allies nor Russia and hers are quite sure how to behave in the new, lukewarm conditions.
Ryan gets an idea for a Middle East peace plan brokered by the Vatican. The plan works, but all Ryan gets is the animosity of the President and his Secretary of Defense, who also happens to be the President’s bed mate.
Terrorists, to whom peace is unnatural and unsettling, have plans of their own.
As both the West and the Soviets have dismantled missiles with nuclear warheads, some of the nuclear material has simply disappeared. The owners haven’t publicized their losses. Nevertheless, a few men of ill-will know where the material is and how to use it for their ends.
Clancy provides plenty of excitement with a minimum of gore. He focuses on how people rise to or fall before a challenge for which they could not rehearse.
Clancy’s text is packed with jargon and technical details about intelligence procedures, aircraft, ships, submarines, weapons, and bomb building, which feels incredibly dull but is essential to the plot: Evil is not passive in this novel.
Having read three Harold Robbins bestsellers, I wasn’t looking forward to reading The Pirate.
The novel lived up to my expectations.
The story is set “today” — the novel came out in ’74—in the Middle East, which is the setting for most of the action outside of bedrooms.
The pirate is Baydr Al Fay, a Jewish baby switched at birth for a dead Arab one and schooled in England and America to use money to make more money.
Baydr is emotionally separated from his California-born wife, seeming to care only about their two sons, whom he rarely sees. Their elder son is soon to be named heir and successor to the Prince Feiyad.
One of Baydr’s daughters by his wife has joined the Fedayeen in rebellion against her father’s preoccupation with making money.
Badyr is a tough guy living by Eastern codes in which women count for nothing; however, my Western mind says rape is rape even if the victims have the personality of a foam egg carton.
The story jerks disjointedly though the sexual adventures of all the major characters and a few of the minor ones, until the novel ends in flames in the Syrian mountains.
The Pirate by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster 1974. 408 p.
1974 bestseller #7. My grade: D
Walter gets caught up in the common people’s fight for justice against the nobles.
When their role becomes known, Walter and his sidekick, Tristram, skeedaddle.
Walter and Tristram hook up with a caravan led by Mongolian General Bayan of the Hundred Eyes. The party includes 81 girls being sent as a present to Kubla Khan.
Walter and Tristram help Maryam, a girl sired by a Crusader, to escape. Walter marries her.
The trio make a fortune in China.
Then the men get separated from Maryam and return without her to England.
The Black Rose would be worth reading just for its comparison of the cultures of West, Middle-East, and Far East in later 13th century.
Neither the characters nor the plot is believable, but Costain moves things along quickly so readers don’t have much time to notice. The result is an entertaining novel with some educational value slipped in.
To say James A. Michener’s whopping 1965 bestseller The Source is an historical novel both understates and misleads.
Into a narrative about a contemporary archaeological dig at Makor, a man-made mound in Israel, Michener weaves a chronological series of short stories about key people and events in Makor’s history. Through this complex literary device, Michener traces unravels the history of Makor from its earliest human occupation up to 1964.
The Source: A Novel by James A. Michener
New York: Random House, 1965. 909 pages. 1965 bestseller #1. My grade: A
The short stories explore the character of the various peoples who came to Makor—from the Canaanites to the British—with particular focus on the Jews.
Michener makes the characters increasingly complex as centuries pass, giving a sense of the progress of civilization.
Michener connects historical events in Israel and the Middle East with happenings in distant places like Rome and Mexico. He shows, for example, that the Crusades were part of Renaissance colonialism in which Europeans carved out city-states in the Holy Land.
The characters in the excavation narrative form a kind of Greek chorus to comment on and interpret the significance of the history of the Holy Land for the post-World War II world.
As America’s ties to Israel are tested by events in Syria, Iraq and Iran, The Source is worth reading once more.
The Egyptian is a fictional memoir of the life of a physician in the days of the pharaohs. The narrator, Sinuhe, is an old man, sick of gods and kings. He says he writes for himself rather than for posterity.
Unfortunately, Mika Waltari published the “memoir,” inflicting Sinuhe’s misery on readers for 500 pages.
Readers will find a new interesting historical bits in this novel, but it’s entertainment value is nil.
Sinuhe’s medical skills take him all over the Middle East. His specialty is brain surgery: he drills holes in people’s heads to let out the badness.
Sinuhe meets heads of countries and commanders of armies, patches up wounded soldiers, treats the poor for free. When necessity demands, he hastens the deaths of enemies of Egypt.
Back in Thebes, he sides with the party of the newly-created god, Aton, against the followers of Ammon. The religious controversy ends in wholesale slaughter.
Sinuhe is exiled to end his days living up to his name, “the One Who Is Alone.”
Waltari’s novel is packed with sex and violence related with all the passion of the police blotter. Only Sinuhe’s servants, Kaptah and Muti, feel like living people. The rest of the characters are just hieroglyphics.
The Egyptian: A Novel
By Mika Waltari
Trans. Naomi Walford
G.P. Putnan’s Sons, 1949
1949 Bestseller # 1
My Grade: C-
Exodus is an unsatisfactory novel but an intriguing introduction to the history of present day Middle East conflicts.
The story is about an American nurse working among refugee children in the Middle East after World War II.
Kitty is attracted to Ari Ben Canaan, a handsome Jewish leader, but Ari seems cold and unfeeling, capable of no emotion but loyalty to his country. Is this man capable of love?
On that story line, more fragile than an Harlequin Romance, Leon Uris hangs a short history of Israel.
Although Uris outlines the story of Jewish persecutions around the world, his main emphasis is on the refusal of the international community to allow refugees from Nazi concentration camps to come to Israel in the ’40s and ’50s. He says the British were pro-Arab because they wanted Mideast oil. They thought the divided Arabs would be easier to control than united Jews.
Although the Arab-Israeli conflict is still headline news, despite the passage of 50 years, today’s Americans have forgotten the events surrounding the birth of the state of Israel.
Although Exodus doesn’t have much to recommend it as a novel, it is an enjoyable introduction to Biblical and modern Israeli history.
In case you wondered, Kitty finds Ari is capable of love.
by Leon Uris
1959 bestseller #1
My grade B
In The Big Fisherman, Lloyd C. Douglas explores the rise of Christianity in a complicated story tangled around the figure of Simon Peter.
I learned lots of trivia, like the fact that multinational crowds came to Jerusalem for a big, annual Pentecost camel auction, but I didn’t enjoy the novel in which Douglas package it.
Douglas gets his characters out of central casting. He runs them around to show the human side of historical events.
But when Douglas tries to transform Peter from impetuous braggart to martyred saint, he makes the apostle seem hokey.
Unfortunately, that’s not all that seems hokey.
There’s a love story that reads like a patchwork of scenes from bad movies. The girl, known as Fara or Esther, is an Arab Jew who vows to kill her father, Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. To get to him, she disguises herself a boy.
Fara’s boyfriend, Volti, follows her to Judea to assassinate Antipas himself. The Romans get suspicious and lock him up. But Volti is such a gallant guy, they let him out so he can kill Antipas, who in their view needs killing.
I kept reading to see what happens to Fara and Volti — but nothing does.
If you’ll excuse the pun, The Big Fisherman just peters out.
The Big Fisherman
By Lloyd C. Douglas
Houghton Mifflin, 1948
Bestseller # 1 for 1948
My Grade: C