The Satanic Verses

tiny black dots on cover obscure both type and illustration
Two figures fighting

The uproar that greeted publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses doomed the book to the category of historical oddities.

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a complex set of nesting stories. The outer story is about two Indian Muslims who miraculously survive when the jet on which they are returning to London is blown up.

As they fall into the Atlantic, film actor Gibreel Farishta turns into the angel Gabriel while voice actor Saladin Chamcha becomes the devil.

Three of Gibreel’s dreams become sub-stories. The first, based roughly on the founding of Islam, led Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against anyone associated with the publication of The Satanic Verses. Few non-Muslims would understand the story, let alone see why it enraged Muslims.

The other sub-stories are about aspects of the emigrant/immigrant experience.

Rushie’s prose mixes wise-cracking humor about people “of the tinted persuasion” with poignant narration that draws tears. Here, for example is Saladin’s reflection at his father’s death bed:

To fall in love with one’s father after the long angry decades was a serene and beautiful feeling; a renewing, life-giving thing.

The Satanic Verses isn’t easy reading, but it offers a needed glimpse of what it’s like to be an immigrant.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Viking. ©1988. 546 p.
1989 bestseller #6 my grade: B+

Jacket illustration shows a detail from 17th century work “Rustam Killing the White Demon” from a Clive Album in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Tiny black dots on the dust jacket obscure the image.

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Daddy by Danielle Steel

Front dust jacket has gold type on medium blue background, no imagesDaddy is most unusual for a Danielle Steel novel: It’s told almost entirely from a man’s viewpoint.

The novel opens with a brief history of the 18-year marriage of Oliver and Sarah Watson, who met as students at Harvard.

When she became pregnant, Sarah wanted an abortion. Oliver had talked her into marrying him instead.

Although Sarah hadn’t wanted babies, she’s a wonderful mother to their three children.  Oliver thinks they have a perfect marriage.

Then Sarah announces she’s been accepted into a master’s program at Harvard. She leaves right after Christmas.

The reactions of Oliver and the children are predictable: They’re hurt, angry, feel abandoned, wonder what they did wrong.

While they’re trying to deal with those issues, Oliver’s father is trying to cope with his mother’s dementia while also trying to pretend it’s not happening, and Oliver gets a big promotion that requires the family to move cross country to California.

Daddy attempts to explore the “What do women want?” question, but Steel can’t get beyond the surface. For Oliver (and perhaps Steel and her legions of devoted readers) the answer is that real women want a man and children.

Daddy isn’t a great novel, but it’s extraordinary for a Danielle Steel novel.

Three days after reading it, I could still remember the plot.

Daddy by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1989. 352 p.
1989 bestseller #3; my grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Mitla Pass: a novel by Leon Uris

“Mitla Pass” cover is all text; the story’s too complex for a picture.The first chapter of Mitla Pass suggests the novel will be a war story.

What Leon Uris delivers is a story of the personal war of writer Gideon Zadok, a man with “the soul of a poet, the rage of a lion.”

Gideon has spent this entire life doing battle against his father, his mother, his wife, the publishing industry, and everyone and everything else that failed to value him.

Uris excavates Gideon’s past. He uncovers stories of people Gideon thinks let him down, flicking a flashlight into Russian shetetls, American slums, Hollywood studios, and Israeli strategy sessions.

Readers see all those individuals in a far more nuanced way than Gideon ever sees them.

For all his literary sensitivity, Gideon is incapable of seeing other people’s perspectives on any subject that affects him personally.

As the novel nears its end, Uris gets Gideon to the 1956 Sinai War foreshadowed in the opening chapter.

The battle for Mitla Pass is short, bloody, futile.

The book ends with Gideon’s wife wondering if their marriage will survive, while beside her, Gideon dreams that he’s going to make people proud of him.

Mitla Pass by Leon Uris
Doubleday. ©1988. 435 p.
1988 bestseller #10; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Sands of Time

Art-free front cover of “The Sands of Time” has uses gold type on a red background.I suspect that Sheldon’s The Sands of Time was a bestseller because book buyers in 1988 expected a Sheldon novel to be a bestseller.

If the author had been Anonymous, Sands wouldn’t have sold.

Most of the story’s action is set in 1976 Spain, where the 1936-39 Civil War is still being waged by the Basque terrorist organization ETA.

The powerful OPUS MUNDO cabal wants Jaime Miró and his gang rounded up, tried, and killed.

In their search for Miró, soldiers enter a convent where they rape and murder Cistercian nuns. Four escape.

Three of the four escapees are true nuns; the fourth is a woman wanted for murder.

The Miró gang run into the escaped nuns. Unwilling to kill them, they’re forced to take them along as the gang splits up to escape from the soldiers.

As they travel, Sheldon tells about the early lives of  the women and what led them each to take holy orders.

Most of Sands is told in flashbacks and because the story has so many main characters the effect is like being surrounded by the press covering the verdict in a particularly grisly murder trial.

And none of the characters is someone you’ll remember the next day.

The Sands of Time by Sidney Sheldon
Morrow. ©1988. 412 p.
1988 bestseller #1; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy

a rifle is at center of front cover
Nothing’s so black and white.

Patriot Games is a thriller about good guys trying to stop terrorists before they can do bad things.

Jack Ryan, an ex-Marine and naval history professor at Annapolis Military Academy runs afoul of an ultra-nasty IRA splinter group while on vacation in London with his ophthalmologist-surgeon wife and four-year-old daughter.

When the disaffected IRA members stage a terrorist attack on the Prince and Princess of Wales right in front of him, Ryan responds saving their lives and making a deadly enemy.

With the British on high alert after the attack, the terrorists decide to strike in America, where Irish terrorists have never struck.

A planned visit by the royal couple to America and to their new friends, the Ryan family, offer the terrorists an ideal target.

A terrible thunderstorm just as the terrorists’ strike adds to the drama.

What makes the Patriot Games unusual is that author Tom Clancy focuses heavily on the different psychological characteristics of the good guys—U.S. military, the CIA, FBI, police, and their British counterparts—and the bad guys.

There’s nothing particularly startling about Clancy’s observations, but the personal angle makes a pleasant change from descriptions of weapon systems and intelligence analysis procedures.

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
Putnam, ©1987. 540 p
1987 bestseller #2; my grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

A Perfect Spy: the novel

Background color pattern of "The Perfect Spy" suggests a flag.In A Perfect Spy, novelist David John Moore Cornwell, known to his fans as John le Carré, rummages through the debris of the British boyhood of Magnus Pym to explore what turned an eager-to-please lad into a spymaster.

The novel opens with Magnus Pym’s disappearance into a bolt hole in Devon shortly after his father’s funeral. It’s a refuge he’s been preparing for years.

Rick Pym had been an engaging rogue who made his living by conning people out of theirs.

Magnus grew up trying to win his father’s approval by being the sort of man Rick professed to admire and being it by using all the deceits he learned from observing his father’s behavior.

Magnus mastered the arts of deceit so well that the British hired him for what they viewed as his natural talent for espionage.

It’s only after his father’s death that Magnus feels free to look back on his life and assess his own personal culpability.

In his Devon room, Magnus writes his life story, addressing much of it to his son, Tom.

Le Carré intersperses Magnus’s story with perspectives from his wife and colleagues.

The result is a novel as complex, fascinating, and ambiguous as Magnus himself.

A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré
Knopf. © 1986. 475 p.
1986 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Prince of Tides novel

Dust jacket of “Prince of Tides” shows marshes as storm rolls in
South Carolina tidal marshes

The Prince of Tides is one of those rare novels capable of making a poor Southern family interesting without first making them rich.

Pat Conroy sets his tale on the South Carolina coast, home to the Wingo family.

Tom Wingo’s marriage to a doctor has been rocky since Tom was fired as a high school football coach.

When Tom’s twin sister, Savanna, a poet, attempts suicide, Tom flies to in New York City to be with her.

From what Savanna has said in the hospital and from her poetry, psychiatrist Susan Lowenstein senses deep trauma.

Since Savanna refuses to see Tom, Lowenstein asks Tom to meet with her regularly to fill in the gaps in Savanna’s history.

Those sessions allow Conroy to shift readers’ attention between past and present.

In bits and pieces, Tom lays out the Wingo family history from World War II to the 1980s. Some of the bits are horrific, but Conroy renders none salacious.

Conroy has a keen instinct for the details that make places and people pop off the page with cinematic clarity.

The Wingos are a messed-up family, but finally the twins and their older brother, Luke, mature enough to forgive their parents “for not having been born perfect.”

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Houghton Mifflin Co., ©1986. 567 p.
1986 bestseller #9; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Little Drummer Girl

Dust jacket has only author’s name and title set on upward sloping line
A picture can’t sum up this novel

In The Little Drummer Girl, John Le Carré abandons George Smiley’s British gloom for a world of international terrorism.

Le Carré fashions a tale about a Palestinian responsible for deaths of Jews throughout Europe. The Israelis know him by the coil of surplus wire left with his crude bombs and by the professionalism with which he eludes detection.

They have no idea who he is, but they have a plan to find out.

The Israelis offer a young English actress called Charlie the role of her life.

The Israelis invent a character for her: the role of a dead terrorist’s lover. They drill her in the facts they know of him and the story they have concocted.

Her job is to get inside the terrorist organization and bring its leader to the Israelis.

Charlie has not only to play her character, but once she’s involved, she has to play other roles, the psychological equivalent of portraying a Russian nesting doll.

The “nestedness” of Charlie’s character requires close attention from readers.  Sometimes Charlie isn’t sure which character she’s playing.

Le Carré lightens the load with apt, sometimes even hilarious, character descriptions, but never lets readers forget that terrorists and anti-terrorists each kill people.

The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré
Knopf. 1983. [Book Club ed.] 429 p.
1983 bestseller #4. My grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Mistral’s Daughter

The dust jacket of Mistral’s daughter features a red carnation on a bright pink background
A red carnation is Maggy’s signature

Judith Krantz gave the public what it wanted in 1982 with Mistral’s Daughter, which was promptly made into a TV miniseries for which the story is ideally suited.

The story begins when Maggy Lunel, illegitimate and orphaned, arrives in 1920’s Paris to make her fortune as an artist’s model.

Maggy Lunel becomes Julien Mistral’s model and mistress, the subject of his first successful paintings, then loses him after his first successful show.

Maggy becomes the mistress of an American who dies suddenly leaving their daughter, Teddy, for her to raise.

She goes to work, eventually opening a modeling agency.

On a photo shoot in France for Maggy’s agency, Teddy meets and falls for Mistral  and bears him daughter, Fauve.

When Teddy is accidentally killed, Mistral gives Fauve to Maggy to raise.

When Fauve is a teenager, Mistral invites her to spend summers in Provence.

Maggy can find no reason to refuse without telling Fauve about her own sexual relationship with Mistral.

Although it’s a page-turner, Mistral’s Daughter wouldn’t suffer if it had fewer pages.

The novel’s happy ending suggests all the wrong done by an artist is automatically cancelled by his art.

The popularity of that ethical assertion doesn’t make it true.

Mistral’s Daughter by Judith Krantz
Crown Publishers ©1982. 531 p.
1982 bestseller #5. My grade: C-

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Master of the Game

 Blood and diamond on dust jacket of “Master of the Game”
That’s a diamond dripping blood.

Sidney Sheldon begins and ends Master of the Game at the 90th birthday party of Kate Blackwell, a rich, powerful, controlling woman.

Between the first and last chapters, Sheldon retraces the Blackwell history since 1900.

Jamie McGregor leaves Scotland at age 18 to pick up a fortune in African diamonds.

Picking up diamonds turns out to be more difficult than he expects, but Jamie is a hard worker and fast learner.

He makes sure the people who took advantage of him as a greenhorn are amply repaid when he makes his fortune.

Kate, Jamie’ daughter, inherits her father’s business empire, his compulsion to have the power money brings, and the brains to get it.

Kate has identical twin daughters, Alexandra who is a decent human being, and Eve, who is as pathologically power hungry as her mother and grandfather.

Master of the Game is typical Sheldon. The plot is simple and colorful.

The leading characters are drawn and colored in broad, cartoon-like strokes.

They use money, sex, and murder as everyday control mechanisms.

None of them ever learns anything except how to be better at being despicable people.

The only surprising facet of Master of the Game is how quickly the novel can be forgotten.

Master of the Game by Sidney Sheldon
W. Morrow. 1st ed. ©1982. 495 p.
1982 bestseller #4. My grade: C-

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni