Debt of Honor

Mountainous island silhouetted by red sun inside final O of honor
Red sun symbolizes Japan.

Jack Ryan is introduced as National Security Advisor to the President in Tom Clancy’s 1994 bestseller Debt of Honor.

Even by Clancy’s standards, this tale of a third world war is complicated. One thread involves a computer program designed to cripple America economically by destroying records of transactions on the US-based stock exchanges.

A second thread concerns a wealthy Japanese man’s desire to revenge the deaths of his family when Americans invaded the Mariana Islands in World War II.

A third thread is about an attempt by India to invade Sri Lanka.

Clancy lays all three of these fictional threads out against the very real political-military situation in the 1990s: the mutual Soviet-US nuclear missile disarmament, the reduction of America’s naval capacity, the reliance on technology as a replacement for human observation and analysis.

About page 675, when American began fighting in the Pacific Ocean, I lost track of who was where—blame the fog of war—and picked up the story as diplomats arranged peace terms.

Readers who know military lingo will enjoy the story more than the rest of us, but no one can read Clancy’s novel without learning a great deal that’s worth knowing—and acknowledging.

Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam’s Sons. ©1994. 766 p.
1994 bestseller #2; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend

Book title laid out in lazy curve against the Cedar Bend landscape
There’s a couple in the far distance.

The dust jacket touts Slow Waltz at Cedar Bend as a story about a once-in-a-lifetime love, but that’s misleading. James Robert Waller’s slender novel actually holds three intersecting love stories, only one of which can be told without spoiling the story.

The main story is about Michael Tillman, an economics professor, who falls head over heels in lust with the wife of a new faculty member.

Bored with husband Jim, Jellie Braden finds sexual fulfillment with Michael. Before she married Jim, Jellie Braden had had some bad experience in India which she won’t talk about.

One day Jellie just disappears.

Jim Braden is willing to wait for his wife to work out her problem but Michael gets on a plane for India, determined to find the one woman he wants.

When he finds Jellie in southwest India, he learns her previous experience there was far different—far worse—than he could have imagined.

Her present-day situation is also far more complicated than he could have imagined.

Amid all the love stories, Waller scatters wry comments about academic life that temporarily lighten the emotional tone until he can wrap up his love stories in an ending that’s more plausible than the novel’s jacket notes.

Slow Waltz at Cedar Bend
by James Robert Waller
Warner Books. ©1993. 197 p.
1993 bestseller #3; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

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

Where Kim’s Concerned, Viewing Beats Reading

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim is a tale of espionage, intrigue, and duplicity that would make a Tom Clancy novel look sissified—assuming anyone in this century is willing to wade through Kipling’s prose, which reeks of his Victorian-era education.

Kim is the orphan son of an Irish soldier stationed in India. Left under the nominal care of an opium addict, by 12, Kim begs, spies, lies, and steals.

Kim becomes the disciple of a Tibetan lama seeking the river that washes away sin. To earn traveling money, Kim delivers a message to Col. Creighton who is in the British Secret Service. The colonel sees Kim could be very useful.

Because of his soldier father, Kim is entitled to British protection and schooling. Kim spends his holidays tramping around India with his lama and getting involved in espionage.

Kim is packed with adventure, but it’s not exciting reading. The characters are not believable, and Kipling’s ponderous prose sometimes makes it hard even to tell which character is speaking. The stylistic problems are compounded by Kipling’s use of Indian and British idioms and proverbs translated into stuffy 19th century English.

In 1950, Kipling’s 1927 novel was made into a movie starring Errol Flynn. A  British television version 1984 stars Peter O’Toole. Either film version is more entertaining than Kipling’s novel.

Kim
by Rudyard Kipling
1901
Project Gutenberg Ebook #2226

 

Lamp in the Desert Gives Neither Light nor Heat

Hugely popular in her day, Ethel M. Dell churned out romances sprinkled with religious allusions to make her sexy tales palatable to god-fearing masses of women yearning for heaven both in this life and the next.

The Lamp in the Desert shows way she was so popular, and why she drew the contempt of better writers who sold fewer books.

Beautiful Stella Denvers travels unchaperoned to India where she joins her bother, Tommy, who is with the British colonial troops Within six weeks, she marries a handsome rotter, who disappears on their honeymoon from accident, suicide or, perhaps, murder.

Within a year, the widow marries the handsome, reclusive Captain Everard Monck, whom she loves but fears because she knows he’s keeping things from her.

Dell never explains why Stella came to India in the first place, or why she picked Dacre to marry rather than one of the decent men.

Monck’s passion for Stella, with whom he’d never talked even about the weather, is similarly inexplicable.

Dell throws snakes and shadowy figures from the bazaars into the story whenever the plot lags. Otherwise inexplicable behavior is chalked up to malarial fever or use of opium.

Unless you have malaria or use opium, you’ll want to skip this 1920’s novel. There are better plots and more believable characters on daytime soap operas.

The Lamp in the Desert
By Ethel M. Dell
1920 bestseller #9
Project Gutenberg ebook #13763
My grade C-

©2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Night in Bombay Excites the Senses

In Night in Bombay, novelist Louis Bromfield plunges readers into 1930’s India, submerges them in its sounds and smells, and holds them until the subcontinent beats in their pulses.

Bill Wainwright is in Bombay on business when he runs into his ex-wife, Carol, a gorgeous blonde living off a string of suitors. She mentions meeting a missionary on the train. From her description, Bill knows it’s his former Cornell roommate, Buck Merrill.

Tropical diseases, hard work, and his frigid late wife have debilitated Buck. Influential Indians want him well enough to continue his work helping rural Indians become self-sufficient. Bill suggests Buck enjoy a vacation at the Taj Mahal Hotel where he and Carol are staying.

Buck and Carol fall for each other, and Bill realizes that he loved Carol all along.

If this novel has a fault, it’s that the exotic locale and seemingly stereotypical characters mislead readers into expecting fluff. Bromfield doesn’t do fluff. In Night in Bombay, he takes the “beauty is only skin deep” cliché and twists it into more variations than a Rubic’s cube.

Take time to savor the sensual richness and complex characters of this cinemagraphic novel. It’s as exotic as a vacation to the Far East.

Night in Bombay
By Louis Bromfield
Grosset & Dunlap, 1940
351 pages
1940 Bestseller # 9

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Rains Came Puts Human Face on Flood Footage

I was reading The Rains Came as TV news showed floods in the US, Brazil, and China that left thousands homeless. None of those pictures moved me as deeply as Louis Bromfield’s 70-year-old novel about a flood in India.

Indians and a motley collection of British are sweating in Ranchipur, waiting for the monsoons to bring relief from the heat, when Lord Esketh arrives with his bored trophy wife, Edwina. They have hardly unpacked when the rains come.

Rivers and streams rise. Then an earthquake breeches a dam above Ranchipur. Most of the city is swept away. The Maharini’s government mobilizes, calling on foreign residents they trust to help.

As the upper crust ex-pats roll up their sleeves, they surprise themselves. Edwina volunteers at the hospital where she can be near the sexy Indian doctor, Major Safti, and finds she can be useful. Fern Simon changes in a week from a self-centered teenager to a responsible woman and shows alcoholic-in-training Tom Ransome that he’s not as emotionally desiccated as he thought.

Bromfield tells how the “miserable people passing . . . one by one, quarreling and reviling each other in their haste and horror, became human” to Ransome. And Bromfield makes them human to readers, too.

The Rains Came: A Novel of Modern India
By Louis Bromfield
Harper & Brothers, 1937
597 pages
#9 on the 1937 bestseller list
My grade: A-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni