"How beautiful this world's pain can be made to look, how festive."
Mar 19, 2009
In the 1980s, David Richards, a mid-level diplomat in Kutar, a former British colony, enjoys his work, an extensive social life, frequent missives to the State Department and interesting people, including a senior British diplomat and his wife; but when there is secret and unexpected activity in the north, the city of Laradan is caught in the middle, the port in the south unaware that trouble is brewing. The usual military officials and bureaucrats continue to misread the signs of unrest until there is a rebel insurgency in the north that cuts off all outside congress, a massacre of innocents and all foreigners compelled to leave at once. Only a few remain, Richards, Nigel Mahew, the British diplomat, Stewart McBride, an American journalist, Paolo Alfani and Amira Chalesani, an aristocrat who has so far spurned Richards' advances.
Isolated in Laradan with no idea when or if aid will come, the disparate group gathers at the Moonlight Hotel, a dilapidated structure whose owner envisioned better days of tourism and commerce. As the military blunders continue under the direction of American Colonel Munn, the besieged stragglers cling to the hope of rescue, while their situation grows increasingly dire. The scenario is all too familiar, foreign hostages at the mercy of a rebel faction enjoying new-found power, all the more dangerous for the unpredictability of the circumstances. The rebels prove far more creative and resourceful than expected, cutting the group off from communication with the rest of the world, the citizens of Laradan held hostage to the whims of the insurgents currently in power: "This was a place where money held greater sway than God or politics, where harmony was largely a matter of self-interest."
The easy commerce of a remote city in an exotic locale is fraught with danger in the sudden turn of events and Davis is put to a test far beyond anything he could have imagined, eventually imprisoned by the rebels. In order to survive, he must resort to desperate measures, kept alive in the hopes of seeing Amira again, but resigned to his fate. The author imbues this Middle Eastern kingdom with menace, changing the landscape from enterprise, diplomacy and social intercourse to complete chaos, flipping a switch from idyllic to nightmarish in a few short days as an adventure in a foreign land becomes an unpredictable exercise in terror. Part love story, part escape-from-peril, the author blends personalities and cultures in an ensemble of mixed agendas and temporary hubris, from "tribals to terrorists to liberators in less than six months", geopolitical expedience the order of the day. Luan Gaines.