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Section of dust jacket for *The Plot* shows Paris site of peace conference at night.

The Plot is a novel about a handful of characters trying to recreate their picture of themselves at their best.

It’s set against the background of a Paris conference aimed at keeping China from acquiring a nuclear bomb.


The Plot: A Novel by Irving Wallace
Simon and Schuster, 1967. 828 p. 1967 bestseller #8. My grade: B.

The story is, as blurb-writers say, “ambitious” and “monumental” — which means slow-starting and agonizingly complex.

Irving Wallace is a good story-teller, but there’s simply too much story to tell in one novel.

The lead character, Matthew Brennan, is an American who worked for the State Department until wrongfully accused of treason. He’s in Paris hoping to get one of the two people who can clear his name to speak for him.

Former political columnist Jay Thomas Doyle is in Paris to see his old girl friend who knows the man who can say who really killed JFK — and give Doyle material for a book to resuscitate his career.

The old girl friend is writing color pieces for a news service at the Paris Summit.

There’s also a heart-of-gold whore trying to get home to England, an incompetent who was America’s president at the time of Brennan’s troubles, and a host of other characters too numerous to remember.

Few readers who aren’t baby boomers or older will have the background knowledge to appreciate this great-in-the-day novel.

©  2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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The Ambassador is the second and the best of the 1965 bestsellers about America’s war in Vietnam.

Unlike Robin Moore, who focuses on soldiers, Morris L. West focuses on the policymakers who set in motion events that ended in body bags.

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The Ambassador by Morris L. West

William Morrow, 1965. 275 pages . 1965 bestseller #9. My grade: A.


Ambassador Maxwell Amberley is transferred from Japan to Saigon to deal with the uncooperative South Vietnamese president who would prefer Americans gave him money and let his government fight the Viet Cong.

America is ready—eager, even—for Cung’s generals to overthrow him.

Amberley finds he likes Cung, admires the man’s managerial skills, and envies his moral compass.

But Amberley must represent his government, which is committed to military action and short-term solutions.

Through his fictional account, West is able to show a complex maze of political interests that cannot merge even when they intersect, because their cultural mindsets are diametrically opposed.

West avoids facile characterization. His men and women are complicated people, facing difficult decisions.

Ultimately, American policy in Viet Nam fails because individuals fail to make a morality a habit.

Ambassador Amberley says the words that unleash a coup, make the U.S. party to an assassination, and assures that the war will drag on for many more years.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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cover of The Kingdom of Slender Swords

In a classic romance opening, Barbara Fairfax gets her first glimpse of Japan from the deck of an ocean liner. Japan is the land where here parents met, her father died, and where she hopes to escape from highly eligible suitor whom she doesn’t love.

As a house guest of the American ambassador’s daughter, Barbara has a front row seat to history in the making. She, however, is more interested in embassy staffer Duke Daunt than in political jockeying between superpowers.

Barbara Fairfax

Barbara Fairfax

Hallie Erminie Rives maintains a classic romance storyline for the remainder of The Kingdom of Slender Swords, but she embeds it within a thriller. Rives rounds out the novel with a bit of history, a chunk of local culture, and a sprinkle of religion.

Sounds like a recipe for literary hash, doesn’t it?

But Rives is no ordinary writer.

Her plotting is superb, her characters believable, her descriptions breathtaking.

Her predictions aren’t bad for 1910 either.

Rives anticipates Japan “will make some other nations get a move on” within the next half century. The novel’s bad guy, “the expert,” says it’s easier to dominate the the world by manipulating international financial markets than with weapons, though he has invented the ultimate weapon by harnessing atomic energy.

If that’s an ordinary romance novel, I’ll eat my Ramen Noodles.

The Kingdom of Slender Swords
by Hallie Erminie Rives 
Illus. A. B. Wenzell
1910 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook #42427

This review has been edited to correct the pronouns referring to the author from he/him to she/her.  Hallie Erminie Rives was also Mrs. Post Wheeler, wife of an American diplomat whose foreign service took the couple to posts in Europe, Asia and South America.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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dustjacket of Time and TIme Again

Time and Time Again is primarily character study, but a superbly plotted one, and James Hilton’s totally unpredictable ending is entirely plausible.

Charles Anderson, 52, is a British career diplomat. To date, his public life has been respectably dull aside intermittent painful episodes resulting from his father’s descent into dementia.

Charles bears the knowledge that his friends call him “Stuffy” with a mingled pride and humility. In his affectionate tolerance of his father, he demonstrates the integrity that inspires the respect of both friend and foe.

Charles is assisting in some tricky negotiations with the Russians at a Paris conference when, to celebrate Gerald’s 17th birthday, he asks his son to join him. Since Gerald was sent to America after his mother was killed in the blitz, Charles has seen little of his son. Charles hopes the dinner will begin a relationship that will flourish when he retires.

When Gerald hurries away from the dinner, Charles follows. He walks in on the boy with a woman in an American-style soda fountain.

While he’s trying to cover his embarrassment occasioned as much by the American cuisine as the assignation, Charles is further embarrassed by the appearance of his adversary from the conference, the Russian negotiator Palan.

This is an unexpectedly good novel that can be read time and time again.

Time and Time Again
By James Hilton
Little, Brown, 1953
306 pages
1953 bestseller #8
My grade B+

© 2013 Linda Gortaon Aragoni

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As Americans wait for the end to the Afghan war, James A. Michener’s 1963 bestseller Caravans is a timely once more.

The novel is set in 1946. As World War II ends, the American embassy in Kabul is ordered to investigate the disappearance of  Ellen Jaspar Nazrulllah, a Pennsylvania woman recently married to an Afghan engineer.

The task is given to Mark Miller, a young Jew who loves ancient history and Afghan food. He’s accompanied by an Afghan who works for the American embassy as well as for the Afghanistan government.

His search for Ellen  takes Miller across Afghanistan on routes that were trod by Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan. Miller finds the missing woman, but in finding her uncovers more mysteries.

Michener is noted for his ability to weave history and fiction against a backdrop of vividly presented scenery. In Caravans, he not only does all that superbly, but also rachets up the suspense to thriller-level.

Once you start this novel, you won’t want to put it down. Later however, you’ll realize the weakness of the story:  Miller cannot figure out what really motivates the missing woman, and Michener appears not to have decided either. What readers should sense as ambiguity feels uncomfortably like lack of control.

Caravans
By James A. Michener
Random House, 1963
336 pages + notes
1963 bestseller # 4
My grade:  B
 ©2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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