In 1177 in Angkor, Khmer (now Cambodia), Prince Jayavar and his chief wife, Ajadevi, stand on a causeway gazing at the colossal multiterraced sandston...moreIn 1177 in Angkor, Khmer (now Cambodia), Prince Jayavar and his chief wife, Ajadevi, stand on a causeway gazing at the colossal multiterraced sandstone temple, its “five towers shaped like lotus buds” ascending in a tropical forest. Suddenly, after sailing up a Mekong River tributary, a large force from neighbouring Champa (central and south Vietnam) attacks Angkor. Following a fierce battle, Jayavar and Ajadevi are forced to flee into the jungle and hide at a secret location. Assisted by his vile henchman, Po Rame, King Indravarman of the Cham rules Khmer with terror and engages in a massive hunt for Jayavar. Indravarman also takes on a number of concubines, including a stunning Khmer beauty named Voisanne. As a reward for bravery, he gives Voisanne to Asal, one of his officers, and Asal is immediately smitten with her. After some intense encounters with the jealous Rame, Asal begins to question his allegiance to Indravarman. Meanwhile, while evading Indravarman’s warriors, Jayavar regroups his Khmer force and seeks assistance from the Siamese to recapture his kingdom. This novel differs somewhat from John Shors’ acclaimed Beneath a Marble Sky, which centered on the construction of the Taj Mahal. Here, while the equally impressive Angkor Wat temple features in the story, the plot deals primarily with the loves, betrayals, divided loyalties, and tales of survival that played a part in the struggle for reclaiming Khmer. Furthermore, Shors’ impressive cast of characters includes some ordinary people, members of a fishing family, which enlivens his settings. Although he notes in the preface that “through necessity I’ve created many elements of this novel,” it reads very authentically, but the mention of slaves in the Hindu/Buddhist community is jarring. Written in Shors’ enjoyable style, with an eye for details of Khmer flora and fauna, this novel is destined to be a blockbuster. Highly recommended. This review was first posted by Waheed Rabbani in the Historical Review Magazine, issue 63, February 2013.
Waheed Rabbani is a historical fiction author whose novels are available at on-line bookstores. (less)
Fall of Giants, Book One of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy, had ended in January 1924 at the finish of World War I and the Russian Revolution, show...moreFall of Giants, Book One of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy, had ended in January 1924 at the finish of World War I and the Russian Revolution, showing a nine-year-old boy shaking hands with his father. Book Two, Winter of the World, commences in February 1933, with eleven-year-old Carla in the kitchen of her Berlin home wondering what her parents, English born Maud, and German born Walter von Ulrich, were arguing about. Book One’s readers would also be unsure what the quarrel was for, as they would recall them to be an amorous couple, who had defied the establishment and married in London—when Walter was a German diplomat there—on the eve of the Great War. We soon learn that the row was about Walter’s objection to an uncomplimentary article on Adolf Hitler, written by Maud in a German magazine, where she worked. It was not that Walter was a Nazi, for he was a Social Democratic Party representative in the Reichstag, but he feared: “It would infuriate the Nazis … and … they’re dangerous when riled.” Before long Walter’s predictions come true. The “Brownshirts” soon start disrupting meetings of parties opposing Hitler, and attacking Jews and others in the streets. The novel thus begins evocatively, covering the rise of a new giant, the Third Reich, from the ashes of the previous one, which throws the world into a “winter.”
Just as in Book One of the trilogy, this novel continues with the story of the five interrelated families—English, Welsh, German, Russian, and American—who live through some of the major world-events from 1933 to 1949. This part features: the rise of Fascists and Nazis, WW II, the development and dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and the start of the Cold War. The plot now includes not only some of the previous characters, but also their children. It seems Follett does not need as many characters, as noted in the previous book’s six pages. In this novel they are listed on five pages, which makes it a more intimate read. While the list is handily presented, at the beginning of the book, most readers—including those not having read Fall of Giants—will likely not feel the need to refer to it.
Although the narrative swings, from country to country and family to family, the characters, particularly those not having ‘come on stage’ for a while, are reintroduced by a skillful clue, enabling readers to identify them immediately. Particularly, their names: Chuck, Gus, Woody, Boy, Maud, Lloyd, Erik, Volodya, and so on, are well chosen and recognizable representatives of their country of origin. Although that period’s historical events are well known, from film and history texts, the narrative thread of these individuals, whom we care for and wish to learn more about, would encourage readers to keep turning the pages of this magnum opus. The result is not only an entertaining reading of their love stories and sexual experiences, but also an insight into the calamity, the horrors, the pain and sufferings of these people, who lived through those tumultuous times. Also, concurrently, we gain an insight into the monumental efforts made by the Allies to bring the Nazi menace to its knees. To accomplish this, Ken Follett has used the tools of an historical fiction novelist admirably. The casts’ locations, education, job functions, and personal characteristics are well chosen, which enable them to mix seamlessly with real historic characters at most of the important proceedings, such as political demonstrations, vandalisms, spying, strategy planning meetings, military campaigns, peace talks and so on. These give us the thrill of having shared the mental thoughts and lived through those events beside the characters. Not only that, but Follett’s eye for detail, such as, people turn on their radio sets and wait for them to warm up before the sound comes, puts us right in that epoch.
Nevertheless, in order to make all of the above happen, Follett has had to use the fictional story-tellers’ favorite device of ‘coincidence’ in this book, as much he did in the former. The actors happen to be, proverbially, at the right place at the right time, to meet the right person. Some readers might find this unnerving. For instance, in one scene a soldier, while serving clandestinely in France, rescues the pilot of a downed aircraft, who turns out to be his half-brother, on a sortie out of England! However, this reviewer would agree with the dialogue between the characters: “It’s a small world … Isn’t it?” For such quirks of fate do happen. [Actually, in a similar fluke, I once happened to meet my cousin—who lives in a city over 10,000 Kms away from mine—at the Dubai Airport, while changing flights, although we were both on separate trips!]
The Spanish Civil War is covered in some depth, and its major lesson is enunciated by a Welsh character, Lloyd, as: “ … we have to fight the Communists just as hard as the Fascists. They’re both evil.” As it turns out, the Communists helped to subdue the Nazis, and the Cold War with them was yet to come.
Quite naturally, Follett was not able to capture, in detail, all the theaters of the WW II, such as the Dunkirk evacuation, the battles in North Africa, Italy, Burma and elsewhere. But, the ones he has covered, are presented movingly and the action sequences are in sufficient detail to bring them visually before our eyes, but not so monotonously—as in some war movies—to make them tedious. The best coverage is of the War in the Pacific, particularly the Battle of Midway and the sinking of the USS Yorktown, told through the eyes of Chuck Dewar, a closeted-gay US naval officer. Follett’s introduction of diverse characters, and the portrayal of an interracial love affair brings additional vividness to the novel.
Possibly, because the topic, of the Nazi Concentration Camps for Jews and others, is well covered elsewhere, they only have a passing mentioned in this novel. However, Follett has included at some length the discovery and the eventual closing of the not too well known Aktion T4 “hospitals.” While this novel covers just one such institution, it is known that there were about six, where many thousands of German citizens deemed to be incurably sick, mentally incapacitated or physically handicapped were euthanized. They were, not coincidentally, also mostly of Jewish and mixed races. The novel describes the thrilling bravery of the German teenage girls, Carla and Frieda, to collect evidence that through the efforts of German clergy and public opinion, which finally persuaded the Fuhrer to close the program.
While there are many real and fictional politicians, spies and their clandestine activities abound in the novel. Here Follett, as a masterpiece thriller novelist, is on familiar territory. Since the story lines are those of the children of the characters in Book One, they are mostly teenagers or slightly older. Yet, they perform remarkable feats of international espionage, with ease, which turns the course of wars and fates of nations. Such as the young Volodya, who after conducting several successful undercover activities for the Russians in Berlin, is sent all the way to Albuquerque New Mexico, in 1945, when he is still only about thirty. His mission: to bring back the plans of the nuclear bomb.
The third part of this novel, called “The Cold Peace,” sets the stage for the final Book Three of the Century Trilogy. The characters, children of the ones in Book One, now have kids of their own, who will undoubtedly play a prominent role in the Cold War storylines to come. The final chapter’s ending, similar to the Book One’s, shows a child blowing out his birthday candles, indicative of the promise a new beginning. However, will they live in peace? We will have to wait for the Book Three to find out.
Ken Follett, in the recent promotional interviews for the Winter of the World, disclosed that he had the typescript of the novel read by a number of notable historians. They are also mentioned in the acknowledgements. It seems that their help, and Follett’s skilful research has made this novel, except for the fictional characters, historically correct. Finishing reading this 960-page novel is a much easier feat, than writing it. Hence readers should raise a glass, of Ken Follett’s favorite champagne, in a toast to his arduous undertaking for taking us on this memorable century long journey.
Reviewed from an advanced reading eGalley, complements of Dutton/Penguin
Waheed Rabbani is a historical fiction author, whose books are available on Amazon and elsewhere. (less)
Reviewed by Waheed Rabbani, from a complementary review copy.
Pauline Hager’s “Giorgi’s Greek Tragedy” is an epic nove...moreWar and Peace in the Peloponnese
Reviewed by Waheed Rabbani, from a complementary review copy.
Pauline Hager’s “Giorgi’s Greek Tragedy” is an epic novel. It evocatively depicts, during 1790 to 1829, the trials and tribulations of three generations of a Greek family in their daily lives and in their struggle for independence from the Ottoman occupation.
The novel begins, like the opening scenes of a movie where we are shown the majestic Taygetos Mountains in Greece’s Peloponnese region. The pine forests, groves of olive trees, and the valleys covered with Rosemary, Lavender and other wildflowers are brought before us. Among the winding slopes and through mountain passes, group of ascetic villages can be seen each having their typical collection of stone homes around a central square with a water-well. The omnipresent towers of a Greek Orthodox Church and the crosses in a cemetery are on one side. The camera zooms on to the village of Papakalos, and one observes the villagers going about their daily chores. The descriptions of the inhabitants, their dresses, cuisine, wedding dances and so on, is presented with much intimate detail, such that the readers would feel as if they are walking amongst the villagers. It comes as no surprise that the author, as noted in her website, is a second generation Greek-American and is hence writing with considerable intimate knowledge of that area.
While this multi-generation novel has numerous characters, Ms. Hager has handled them skillfully, thereby avoiding the possibility of any confusion in the minds of the readers. Also, just to be sure and to prevent us from getting lost in the Greek names, a List of Characters and a Map, is included at the beginning of the book. The harsh life of the villagers, under the Ottoman occupation’s atrocities and the burden of heavy taxes, is narrated vividly. Yet the inhabitants are shown to be resilient and despite the hardships and numerous killings, at the hands of the Turks, manage to survive and make the best use of what little resources they have. Many young men leave their villages to join bands of guerillas (Kleftes) that operate in the mountains and fight the Turkish garrisons.
The novel’s principal protagonists are two brothers, Giorgi and Yianni, whose world is suddenly upended when their father and mother are murdered by Turkish agents and a young brother is taken away to be trained to serve in the Turkish army. Later, a younger sister is also kidnapped and likely taken to the Sultan’s harem in Constantinople. The orphaned children are brought up by their aunt. Subsequently overcome with extreme anger and hatred for the Ottomans, the teenage brothers leave for the mountains, to seek vengeance, by joining a group of Kleftes headed by a famed fighter, Kapetan Zaharias. Ms. Hager has presented masterfully a balance of characterization between the two brothers. While the elder Giorgi is shown to be a militant type, the younger Yianni is a, “ … slender sensitive youth … who preferred writing poetry and reading books, to fighting.” Giorgi is instrumental in persuading his brother to join the guerillas. They arrive at the fortress in the ancient city of Mystras and are thrilled to see the houses on the rocky cliffs and the fortified monasteries high up on the steep hills. Yianni, although not keen on the idea, does join the Kleftes. The brothers finish their basic training and take part in several successful raids on the Turkish camps. While Giorgi enjoys the fighting, Yianni does not. He regularly goes to church to pray and spends time in meditation, for which he is ridiculed by Giorgi and is the source of conflict between the brothers.
During one battle, Yianni is hit in the chest by a sniper’s bullet. He is taken to a monastery where is he is cared for by the monks. Upon recovery, Yianni decides to stay on in the monastery and, to Giorgi’s consternation, become a priest. Giorgi continues in the long guerilla war against the Turks. Kapetan Zaharias manages to unite the many different factions of the Kleftes under one banner, and just when it seems they might be winning the war, there is a setback. Kapetan Zaharias is betrayed and is murdered by one of his friends. The struggle continues and while Yianni preaches, Giorgi keeps on fighting.
Finally help comes from abroad, from the British, French and the Russians. The Kleftes raids take on the form of full fledged assaults on the Ottoman forces. Greece is undergoing a gruesome revolution. Giorgi, now at the advanced age of forty-seven, is persuaded by Yianni to settle down and take on a wife, but Giorgi is restless. He ignores his brother’s pleadings and decides to join the forces fighting in Northern Greece.
However, it would seem that all the praying and meditation by Yianni does have some effect. A few months later Giorgi returns to tell Yianni that he is in love with a beautiful Turkish girl! Also, later Yianni receives a letter from Giorgio wherein he writes, “… You probably will find this hard to believe, Yianni, but I am tired of war. I'm sick and tired of it all, and I no longer enjoy killing a Turk. I just want this long bad dream to end …”
While this is a wonderful tragic story, told vividly with a backdrop of the struggle by Greek patriots to win back their homeland, the main theme of the novel could be expressed in Father Yianni’s thoughts, when he sat in a monastery in Mystras and wondered, “… if it was important how people perceived God? Is not the final destination the same for everyone, to go to Heaven? Does not everyone pray to the same God? Is there more than one God, one for each religion?”
This novel will make the readers wonder about the futility of war, and if there is more than one God.
Waheed Rabbani is the author of “Doctor Margaret’s Sea Chest” the Book I of his The Azadi Trilogy. (less)
Reviewed by Waheed Rabbani from and Advance Review Copy
Shane Joseph has done it again! In his latest novel, The Ulysses Man, he has not only penned a...moreReviewed by Waheed Rabbani from and Advance Review Copy
Shane Joseph has done it again! In his latest novel, The Ulysses Man, he has not only penned a blockbuster plot but also managed to again foreshadow the theme of a new novel by another bestselling author. Close to the publication of his previous novel, After the Flood—a futuristic tale of the world following a cataclysmic event—another novel, The Year of the Flood, with a similar premise was brought out by a notable author, Margaret Atwood. Similarly, after Shane’s current The Ulysses Man had gone to press, another novel—The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje—has just been issued that is already on the 2011 Scotia Bank Giller Prize long list!
As in Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table—the story of a boy on board a ship from Ceylon to the UK—Shane Joseph’s The Ulysses Man also narrates the story of a Sri Lankan youth, Martin James, who leaves his homeland for a life abroad. While it would appear that there are biographical elements in both the novels, The Ulysses Man covers much more of Martin’s life journey than just a sea voyage. Martin’s mostly unhappy childhood in the suburbs of Colombo, the pain, sufferings and the ups and downs of his life in Canada, his nostalgic visit back to Sri Lanka and eventual settling down in his adopted country are all dramatized and vividly narrated. We see Martin grow up from a child to an adult before our eyes, as if on a movie screen.
Much like the Greek hero Ulysses, and as in Joseph Campbell’s classic text book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Shane’s Martin follows a mythological hero’s journey and it’s a thrill to tag along in his: call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid, the road of trials, meeting with the goddess, atonement, return, rescue, and finally the freedom to live.
Shane’s novel brings to sharp focus the quandary of ‘belonging’ faced by most settlers in a foreign land. In Martin’s situation, and that faced by most immigrants, The Ulysses Man provides an answer.
Waheed Rabbani is the author of “Doctor Margaret’s Sea Chest,” the Book I of his “The Azadi Trilogy.” (less)
At writers’ conferences, it is often commented that it is riskier to set a novel in a Canadian city, than in a foreign locale say Delhi. The main reas...moreAt writers’ conferences, it is often commented that it is riskier to set a novel in a Canadian city, than in a foreign locale say Delhi. The main reason being offered is that the plot may not be appealing to American readers. However, Farzana Doctor’s second novel, Six Metres of Pavement, set in the Little Portugal district and other environs of Toronto, compares admirably with those set in the streets of a cosmopolitan city say in the UK. The themes of the novel such as, love, tragedy, family and multi-cultural relationships, sexual orientation, addiction, and redemption are its main appeal, while the setting in an ethnic neighbourhood adds to their flavour. These are all told by Farzana in her unique voice, and by presenting the local viewpoints, she voids the “MacDonaldification” of the writing as one reviewer has put it.
The book starts not only with an intriguing title and the cover, but also the captivating image of Ismail Boxwala, an Indian immigrant and a municipal engineer, who is attempting to overcome a twenty-year old tragedy by ‘staying in motion,’ which among the normal daily activities involves a lot of elbow-bending at the local tavern. Farzana gradually reveals that heartbreaking event, masterfully, in snippets of flashbacks while moving the story-line forward and maintaining our concentration. We learn of the accidental death of his nearly two-year old daughter, who he’d inadvertently left in the back seat of his parked car on a hot summer morning. The child died leaving Ismail with immense grief, remorse and nightmarish images that haunt him virtually to the end of the novel. There are other repercussions of the loss. Some of these such as deteriorating job-performance, which Ismail is barely able to surmount, while the other major one, erectile dysfunction, he is not—at least temporarily. While his wife, Rehana, absolves him for the ‘worst mistake of his life’ when she tells him while leaving the cemetery, ‘I forgive you ...’ but she does not for his ED problem. After dragging him to several clinics, she—somewhat uncharacteristically for an Indian woman—walks out on him. This and other unexpected non-clichéd characterizations, such as Celia Sousa’s, the 50-year old Portuguese widow, makes the novel that much more interesting.
The book’s back cover blurb mentions two women who initiate changes in Ismail’s life. Yet in the opinion of this reviewer, there is a third woman, his beer-drinking buddy and more, Daphne, who has a profound influence on his fate. It is she who first helps him to pacify his recovered sexual vigour—following his divorce—and later almost cures his alcoholism by taking him to AA meetings. Subsequently, she is the one who pesters him to take the creative writing course. Nevertheless she disappears from his life after confessing her lesbianism.
At the creative writing classes, Ismail befriends, Fatima, an undergraduate bisexual student, who is facing difficulties having her parents accepts her sexuality and has been turfed out of their home. Although Ismail is not sexually attracted to Fatima—she’s just about the age his deceased daughter would have been—he helps her along, and the point that it is due to his latent love for his daughter is well made. Through Fatima he learns not only the meaning of queer, but also what it is like to be a destitute and homeless person. While Ismail does have some family and community friends in Toronto, who attempt to assist him in their own ways in his difficult time, it is really his friendship with Fatima and the writing school assignments that help him slay his internal daemons. He finally has the tears of grief pour out of him.
Meanwhile, although Ismail had been introduced to Celia—his neighbour six metres of pavement across the road—some time ago and had run into her occasionally, he does not initiate contact with her. It is again she who atypically connects with him. She had also been suffering emotionally in her widowhood and had been imagining visits by her deceased husband. We learn that while she was secretly spying on Ismail through the slits in the curtains from her bedroom windows, which while not unusual in those close nit communities, her further actions catch us unaware.
While the ending of the novel might be somewhat like a ‘fairytale,’ as one reviewer put it, it is, nevertheless, wonderfully written in a congenial style and one that will ‘tug at the heartstrings’ that another reviewer wrote.
Farzana has won much acclaim for this novel. She was awarded the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Grant for Emerging Gay Writers, and this book was also nominated for an entry to the long list for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize. It is said that books on the short list for this prestigious award are already winners—at the bookstores—and the same can be said for a novel on the nomination list.
It should not be long before we would see Farzana’s novels up on the bestseller lists, and with the popularity of the Bollywood movies dramatized on the celluloid screen as well.
Waheed Rabbani is the author of “Doctor Margaret’s Sea Chest,” the Book I of his “The Azadi Trilogy.” (less)
Medical and Philosophical Teachings, Romance, Witchcraft Accusations and Mob Violence in the 410s AD of Roman Alexandria
While most of us are familiar...moreMedical and Philosophical Teachings, Romance, Witchcraft Accusations and Mob Violence in the 410s AD of Roman Alexandria
While most of us are familiar with the early Egyptian historical periods, during the reign of the Pharos, Alexander, Cleopatra, Caesar, Mark Anthony and others, little is known about a Greek lady philosopher named Hypatia. Faith Justice has chosen to pen a historical fiction novel during Hypatia’s life and times in Alexandria during the 410s AD. By then although Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, a significant populace of other believers, Jews and pagans, existed in Egypt. The civilian rule was administered by the Constantinople appointed Prefect (governor), while the Patriarch (bishop) presided over the Christian church affairs. This heart-wrenching story is narrated through the eyes of a young girl, Selene, born to a land-owning Christian family. Her mother having died, she is brought up by her ailing father and an elder brother, although they are busy in business and other duties. A second brother, her childhood playmate, joins the army and leaves for service overseas. Hence, Selene, having to grow up on her own, develops an independent mind. Even though it was most uncharacteristic for girls of her time, she decides to become a physician. Her desire blossoms when she witnesses the death of her beloved mother and decides to “thwart death any way she could.” She shears her hair, disguises herself as a boy and with the help of her brother attends Lady Hypatia’s school. Hypatia is taken in by Selene’s courage and helps her—with some assistance from the recently appointed Prefect—to overcome her father’s vehement objections to embark on a medical education. Herein lays Justice’s skillfulness in narrating the story. We are able to observe the lady philosopher through the trials and tribulations and romance that Selene encounters. Although a movie, "Agora," on Hypatia’s life was made in 2009, one of the reviewers on its debut at the Cannes Film Festival  had remarked that a problem with the movie is that it struggles to properly develop the romantic side of the story, Justice’s novel has no such “problem.” While, keeping with the historical facts, Hypatia remains virginal, there is no dearth of romance in the story. Justice has skillfully woven three love-stories into the plot to add much interest to make the novel into a historical romance epic. Readers’ interest will also be maintained by all the intricate details of the 5th Century life in Alexandria, the surroundings, buildings, people’s clothing, food and everything that will perk our imagination and enable us to walk and sit beside the characters. The fruits of the research that Justice began in 1980 show amply. For instance when describing the top of the sarcophagus of her girl-friend’s coffin—that another less careful writer may have simply referred to as a ‘cover’—Justice writes: “… The lid standing on end next to the coffin was covered with Christian symbols – an ankh, a lamb in a meadow – mixed with traditional Egyptian death scenes. The Sky Goddess spread her wings over the world in protection while an ibis speared fish in the Mother Nile …” Such evocative writing would surely make the cover appear before our eyes. Selene puts her medical knowledge to good use on several occasions. She brings her father back to life after a severe heart-attack and administers first aid to victims of the religious riots. It was her timely cesarean on her girl-friend—who had died moments earlier during child birth—that saves the baby. But it gets her in trouble with the jealous physician, who complains to the Patriarch of Selene’s unqualified surgery. Selene gets dragged first through a ‘malpractice’ trial and then a charge of witchcraft. The Patriarch, who had been systematically engaged in having his people riot and expel the Jews and pagans from the city, takes this opportunity to excite the inhabitants against the aging Lady Hypatia. Selene is caught in the conflict between the fanatical Patriarch and the Roman authoritarian Prefect, who develops a soft corner in his heart for her. While historians have been searching, over the centuries, for justifications for Hypatia’s unpopularity with the Christian church, through skillful plot twists, Justice has provided us a plausible reason for that unspeakable event conducted by an unruly mob. Selene of Alexandria, at 346 pages it a moderate length book that usually requires a few sittings to complete, but Selene’s last 100 or so pages are so engrossing that they will definitely make one read those to finish, regardless of the lateness of the hour. Having closed the book, it’s the kind of novel that lingers for quite some time in one’s mind. Finally, Justice has introduced another charming aspect of the novel. Readers and book club members would likely spend many thoughtful hours debating its ending. Reviewed By: Waheed Rabbani, author of “Doctor Margaret’s Sea Chest,” available from Amazon.  Ref: www.firstshowing.net/2009/05/17/canne... (less)
The good, the bad, and the ugly in the new world, after the Flood.
Shane Joseph’s futuristic novel is indeed something...more“After the Flood” By Shane Joseph
The good, the bad, and the ugly in the new world, after the Flood.
Shane Joseph’s futuristic novel is indeed something original, and a refreshing read, when compared to other similar novels wherein the world, predictably, following a cataclysmic event is a dystopian place with a bleak future. Shane’s characters lead normal lives, much like in their earlier world, unlike the survivors in the other stories, where they have to survive in—hard to believe and imagine—shattered buildings, bleak landscapes, and face not only food shortages but genetically mutated antagonists! Herein lays the charm of Shane’s novel. The characters are real, whom we can relate with, and are drawn into their new world with all its former characteristics and inhabitants’ good, bad and ugly wishes. As noted in the Synopsis “… the human ability to create havoc through the weakness of desire is still alive and well …” This setting provides a unique opportunity to bring out the strengths and frailties of mankind, which Shane has delivered in an absorbing novel that will make us ponder our own lives for some time after closing the book.
In selecting the time period of his story, Shane, appears to have taken a page out of an ancient Mayan almanac that had ended its calendar in 2012. Hence, quite believably due to ecological changes, the flood occurs that year to cut off parts of North America from the rest of the world. Shane’s characters, through diligent hard work—typical after a disaster—have rebuilt their former city—possibly Toronto—into a city-state and named it, “Tolemac.” The choice of that name tells a lot about the story itself and is a pleasant surprise when its reason is revealed.
Characteristically, the new world also gets divided into factions of have and have-nots and those with capitalist and socialist—called Humanitarian—values. The story takes on a bit of the charming “Peyton Place” style, when strangers arrive in town. The desires and wills of the residents are tested. Some remain resolute while others succumb to temptation, which leads even to a murder. Following an absorbing trial with a satisfying conclusion, where possibly Grisham might have ended his novel, Shane’s story continues (much like a Bollywood movie) into a thrilling fourth act.
The writing and dialogue use is superb. Some of the discussions and speeches made by the contenders during the election campaign in Tolemac will remind us of our North American politicians. Shane has employed wonderful techniques and props to bring that age of the new world alive from the pages into our mind’s eye. For instance the information and communication device used by those people is called a “Communicator,” which appears to be a combined, radio, TV, PC, telephone etc, device. Could it be a future version of the latest iPad?
Shane Joseph’s novel is aptly subtitled: “A dystopian novel of hope.” To those of us who are concerned about the prospects of our World, and with the year 2012 in our minds, it will hearten us to realize that indeed there is hope for a tranquil future.