Windmills of the Gods

Flowers and lash are art on dust jacket of “Windmills of the Gods”
   A whip and flowers

Windmills of the Gods is another in a long line of Sidney Sheldon novels destined—or perhaps designed—to be given visual treatment as a film or TV mini-series.

The story will keep readers’ attention for three or four hours, but they won’t remember it a day later.

The problem is that Sheldon’s stories have characters but they have no real people in them.

In Windmills, the newly-elected 42nd president of the United States chooses a widowed Kansas professor of Eastern European history to initiate his new be-friends-with-everybody foreign policy.

That policy doesn’t go down well with many long-time foreign service staff and with some major foreign governments.

It doesn’t help that Mary Ashley has never been further from Kansas than Colorado.

Nevertheless, Mary’s activities as Ambassador to Romania are given publicized as if she were a top Hollywood star.

After several missteps, Mary pulls off a series of diplomatic coups.

But the President’s enemies want to get rid of Mary and the President’s policies in one spectacular blow-up.

There are undoubtedly some people in the U.S. government as stupid as the people in Windmills, but putting an entire novel’s worth between the covers of one book strains credulity too far.

Windmills of the Gods by Sidney Sheldon
William Marrow. ©1987. 384 p.
1987 bestseller #6; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Thriller built on race relations and foreign policy

Gov. George Wallace attempts to block black students from entering University of Alabama
Wallace at University of Alabama

Allen Drury followed up his blockbuster novel Advise and Consent with A Shade of Difference, which builds on events and characters from that novel.

In the mid-twentieth century, “Terrible Terry,”a Western-educated leader of a British possession, is seeking UN help in getting immediate independent status for his African country.  Terry has the support of the Communist countries as well as the non-aligned and anti-American nations. More important, Terry has the support of the liberal segment of Americans always ready to denounce their nation.

When Terry dramatically escorts a black girl to integrate a white Southern school, he unleashes a violent clash of races and political opponents.

An experienced political reporter, Drury writes with an insider’s knowledge and a propagandist’s aim.

However, he’s also a capable story teller, who never forgets that readers come for the story. His omniscient character descriptions are borne out by the words and actions of those characters.

The most startling aspect of A Shade of Difference is how contemporary the story feels. Representative Cullee Hamilton, caught in the conflict between the races and his own political ambitions is a fictional sixties Barack Obama.

Whatever your political leanings, you will find intrigue and entertainment in the pages of this political thriller.

A Shade of Difference
Allen Drury
Doubleday, 1962
603 pages
1962 bestseller #3
My grade:B+
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Ugly American Is Alive, Well, and Living Abroad

The Ugly American is less a novel than a series of related stories of Americans in Asia during the era of the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts.

William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick contrast the American foreign service staff in Asia with the Russian foreign service, basing their tale on actual people and events.  The novel’s goal isn’t entertainment, but persuasion.

America’s diplomatic core in Asia don’t speak the language, don’t know the customs, stick to themselves, never get outside the cities where their embassies are housed.

Worse, they reject advice from Americans whose language skills and willingness to interact with the locals give them expertise.

The Russians, by contrast, train their foreign service staff thoroughly before deploying them. As a result, the Russians win the hearts and minds of the people.  The Americans are despised.

The great — and horrific — thing  about The Ugly American is that it still feels real today. You have only to see newscasts of President George W. Bush shrugging off  the Iraqi shoe-thrower to see that Americans still have no appreciation of the cultures in which they have troops stationed. And post 9/11,we’ve seen how effective Mao’s embedded insurgents can be.

I hope you will read this novel— and that you won’t like what you read one bit.

The Ugly American
by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick
W. W. Norton, 1958
285 pages
My grade C+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni