Sunday, July 8, 2007

Tom Clancy: Patriot Games

This novel was written in 1987, after The Hunt for Red October became a major success. It is supposed to be set before that book, and in here is described the series of events that would turn Jack Ryan into a major character, and get him to enter the CIA. The book is pretty tautly written, and I have read it a number of times.
This time when I was reading it, there are so many passages in this book that are relevant now. The description of terrorism, human rights, how society should fight terrorism without becoming a ruthless instrument itself, all these are very eloquently mentioned in this book. It was worth reading just to get a feel of all this discussions, and the book talks about Irish Republican terrorists, who are not known for mass murders. In the current context, we deal with terrorists who are inspired by the more violent teachings of Islam and do not shirk from mass murder, on a scale not seen before from terrorism.
In addition, there are passages about how to counter international terrorism, with an event where there is cooperation between French, British and American intelligence to hunt down terrorism, and how such international cooperation is necessary. There is also a mention of a French military tribunal secretly convicting some anti-French terrorists whose capture was also a secret, and even though this sounds illegal, it seems necessary. When the French had tried to do an open trial, the terrorists had subverted the trial through illegal means, and hence the tribunal. Sounds somewhat similar with the current plans to have a military tribunal to convict the Al-Qaeda detainees. And this is where we have a clash - the concept of rule of law and justice is deeply ingrained, but it is also realistic that the terrorists do not respect any of these. As the movie 'The Siege' so eloquently put it, you need information to stop a bombing, there is a guy who knows it but is not going to disclose, and as per current law, you cannot force him to do this. I am sure that no one would want to be a decision maker in such a case, what do you do ?
This book is about Jack Ryan, a historian and former marine, also involved with CIA in a small way. He is in London for research, when he sees an attack by terrorists. He jumps in, kills one, wounds another and the third escapes. Jack also gets injured. Turns out he saved the Prince, Princess of Wales and their baby from a kidnapping plot by the ULA (Ulster Liberation Army), an offshoot of the IRA. After some time, the wounded terrorist escapes while being transported.
After being much feted, he returns to the US and back to his regular job; somewhat uneasy about the terrorists coming to the US to get back to him. However, logic says that foreign terrorists have never attacked the US inside the country (thanks to the FBI as well) and their funding will be impacted if they do so.
Well, they do, and Jack's wife and daughter are severely injured, but recover. This pushes Jack over to the CIA for getting back at the terrorists the way he can, and soon makes a name for himself. In another major section of the book, the Prince and Princess want to visit Jack at his home when they are in the US. The terrorists, aided by a local terrorist group, manage to attack the heavily guarded home and kill off most of the defenders and temporarily capture all the inhabitants. However, they manage to get free and are chased by the terrorists over water, eventually reaching a naval base where the terrorists are all captured.
This is a very gripping book, and the section about Jack's unease with regard to society and its interaction with the terrorists is very gripping indeed.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Leon Uris: Exodus

This is a very dated book, in the sense it was released in 1958, and was not Leon's first book. That book was Battle Cry, about the US marines in the Pacific theatre of WW2. Exodus was published in 1958 and was a tremendous best-seller, being translated into 50 languages. I read this book, and soon after read the book 'O Jerusalem' by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, together giving me a very vivid picture of the struggles and tribulations involved in the creation of the state of Israel.
Exodus is the name of a ship used in trying to get a bunch of Jewish refugees to British controlled Palestine, over the quota allowed and with the British refusing to allow the refugees enter. At the end of the second World War, the Jewish population of middle and Eastern Europe had been decimated in the holocaust, and the true horrors of the Final Solution policy of the Nazis had been revealed.
In the early part of the 20th century, Jewish scholars and leaders had started seeing the land of Palestine as their god given destiny, and started movements to this land from the Jewish communities all over Europe and America. By the 30's and 40's, this movement had taken root, and more and more Jews were settling and buying land from the Arabs living there. A number of militant Jewish organizations formed, such as the Hagannah, Irgun, Stern, all with the purpose of getting the Jews to being treated as people with strength, and to aid in the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East.
Exodus is the story of a few principal characters such as Ari Ben Canaan (modeled on Moshe Dayan; who served in the British army during WW2, and after that devising means to get Jews to Palestine by breaking the British quota), Kitty Fremont (an American nurse, she has been recently widowed; she develops an attachment to a German refugee, Karen Clement and eventually to Ari), Bruce Sutherland (a British army officer with a Jewish mother who witnesses the horrors of the concentration camps at the end of the war and eventually becomes an advisor to Ari), Karen Clement (who was a refugee having lost most of her family in the concentration camps, and who eventually is killed right at the end of the book by Arabic invaders), and Dov Landau (another refugee who lost his family to the Nazis, he has become an expert forger (using that to prevent death in the concentration camps; he falls in love with Karen and has a thirst for revenge).

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Mario Puzo: The Godfather

I guess more people would have seen the Godfather movies rather than read the book; but let me start by saying that this is a great book. The book is a fairly gripping book, establishing both the history of why the godfather became the godfather (Vito Corleone), and also the birth of the next Godfather, Michael Corleone. It does meander a bit in between when trying to explain various things, but overall is a very taut book.
The book takes the Corleone family, one of the 5 mafia crime families and the tensions between them. The book explains the motives and the development of characters for some of the main characters of the book, Vito Corleone, Sonny Corleone, Michael Corleone, Connie, Kay (Michael's wife), Tom Hagen, and a few others, but whose characters are not so well developed.
The book also explains numerous mafia activities to people who may not be well-enough acquainted with some of these terms, terms such as button man, hitting the matresses, omerta, La cosa nostra, etc.
The story explains how a poor Italian immigrant, a man of quiet nature, but internally a very powerful individual, slowly starts to be seen as a man of power, a man of stature and one who can influence things. He can get his people justice, deferment from the army, rough justice against anyone who has harmed them and so on. While reading this book, it would not seem strange at all that all these activities are illegal :-), they just seem natural. Slowly, he starts to build an empire consisting of political connections, book-keeping, races, and many other vices including the illegal running of alcohol. However, even such people have their own scruples, such as being against prostitution and drugs.
And this is what brings him down and decides the rest of the book. Vito refuses help to another family seeking to expand in the drugs field, and provokes an assassination attempt in which he is injured, and which brings his violent son Sonny into the field as the interim leader (his other son Michael is outside the family business, being a decorated soldier). Hence, in a quirk of fate, Michael gets involved, kills 2 people and escapes the country. In the ensuing gang warfare, Sonny is killed and Vito Corleone, The Godfather, gets up from his sick bed in an attempt to ensure the safe return of his son Michael back.
Vito makes a deal in which he accepts Sonny's death and foreswears all vengeance (although he is perceived as weak due to this lack of revenge) in order to get Michael back. The aim of course is long-term, to get Michael to take the revenge after setting him up as the Godfather. The latter part of the book is about this effort; how Michael gains the power of the family, how he turns from being a loyal American to the head of a major criminal family, and how he eventually carries out the revenge (by killing a number of the opposition families leaders, and also killing his own brother-in-law for the role he had in getting Sonny killed).
It is only at the end where the author puts a touch about that these people are bad people, when you see that the women of the family are praying for their souls. The book also depicts women and the African-American community in a bad light, thus depicting the inherent racism of the Italian (and maybe others) community as of that time.