Holy War, by Mike Bond *****

holywarThat was the best horrible story I ever read. Holy War is set in Lebanon during the civil war. There are three protagonists whose stories and points of view interweave throughout this complex, highly literate novel. The plot centers on these individuals, each with one or more relationships whose ruin runs parallel to the destruction and chaos of Lebanon by various opposing forces (with the author’s emphasis on the religious disparity as opposed to the political differences, and indeed it’s a pretty fine distinction to make in this case). I requested the book from Net Galley because I haven’t read anything set in Lebanon. I am aware of the tendency of US citizens to focus over-much on our own enormous nation, and since I haven’t had the opportunity to travel beyond North America physically, I make a point to read contemporary novels set in other places. In this case, it paid off. I learned a good deal. I had never regarded Beirut as having once been a thriving cosmopolitan city; all I’d ever heard on the daily news in past years was “war-torn”. I live in a city that’s so scenic it’s nearly magical, and I am hard to impress when I travel. I have never thought of Beirut as having been lovely, but the writer describes it as breathtakingly beautiful, and the descriptions that he inserts into the story, without breaking stride in his pacing, convince me that it is much more than just some arid chunk of rock and sand. Bond makes the reader want to weep for Lebanon, and for the characters whose lives are coming undone as they attempt to do the right thing; this is considered different, naturally, by each of the protagonists. During the first third of the book, I was distracted by trying to figure out the writer’s political line. He doesn’t really have one, though, apart from the wish that this beleaguered place might have peace. I also initially wondered why all the sex and relationship material was jammed into what is otherwise essentially a thriller; then I began to see the parallels (although I could really, really live without ever seeing the “c” word applied to women’s anatomy ever again). In the end, inevitably, the protagonists find themselves in the same place together after having missed each other by mere inches at times throughout the story line. I won’t tell you how that plays out; you’ll have to see it for yourself. By the story’s end, though, each of the main characters seemed so utterly lost and hopeless to me that I found myself rooting for the dog, which was supposed to be peripheral. I engaged enough with Bond’s novel that I had to go look at a world map (and happily, we have one on the wall in our hallway) to see where exactly Lebanon is located. As it happens, Israel is smack in the center between Lebanon and Palestine; hence the struggle of the Lebanese Palestinians. I also found myself wondering why Britain (one protagonist‘s homeland) and France (another’s) feel they have any right to determine what happens here. There is no American protagonist, and yet I know the USA hasn’t exactly kept its hands off or its voice silent, either. But Lebanon is a tiny, tiny place, dwarfed by Syria, and practically a fly on the wall in contrast to Saudi Arabia. So why are all the big dogs interested in this tiny place? Are the Americans looking for a military base to replace the one they lost in Iran when Reza Pahlavi was chased away by the Iranian people? Or is there money involved? (At one place fairly early in Bond’s plot, a character says that wherever there is a war, profit is driving it, and I agree.) A trip to Wikipedia tells me that there’s oil in the Mediterranean. Hypothetically, then, the whole thing should be left to the countries that border the Mediterranean, but it would be naïve to believe it could shake out that way. And just as the great cedar forests of Lebanon have been razed for the betterment of Europe, one wonders just what shape the Mediterranean will be in once the next great oil disaster occurs there. Of course, you can read this book without examining all of those questions. It’s a fine read right on the surface level, but you’ll need a strong literacy level and full attention for it, regardless. This is not a beach read. It’s serious stuff. For those who enjoy a good thriller or have an interest in Beirut, you should get this book as soon as you can.

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