When you read as many novels as I do—I read and reviewed more then 75 novels for Great Penformances this year—there’s a tendency to become jaded.
Plots get to feel familiar.
Characters seem to reappear in different outfits in different novels.
And the point of it all often is hardly worth the words expended in stating it.
As a reflected on the novels I reviewed here in 2015, four stood out as being distinctly different from the rest:
Although their subjects cover a wide range, each has the same central theme: the importance of having a moral compass.
The Ambassador is a story about the politics of American involvement in the Vietnam War. The American Ambassador to South Vietnam says what his government pays him to say. In so doing, he assures the war will drag on, body bag after body bag, for years.
His career crisis underscores the Ambassador’s personal crisis: He had depended on his late wife’s faith to provide him with a moral compass. Without her, he can’t locate North.
Something of Value
Something of Value also is set against the backdrop of a war, this one between the white settlers of Kenya and the black guerrilla army, the Mau Mau.
The white colonialists have prohibited the blacks from practicing their culture and religion, but the tepid Christianity they demanded Kenyans substitute for traditional ways provide neither white or black with a moral compass.
The 40 Days of Musa Dagh
The 40 Days of Musa Dagh is a story about the events called, except in Turkey, the Aremnian genocide.
In 1915, the Ottoman Empire, part of Central Powers (which also included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria), ordered Armenians within its borders to the Syrian deserts.
Only a few Armenian communities resisted.
As World War I began, some 5,000 Armenian from the Mediterranean mountains due west of Aleppo, Syria, took up positions on Musa Dagh (“Mount Moses”) to repel the Turkish military.
They held out for 53 days (Werfel calls it 40 days, which sounds more biblical) before the Western Allies evacuated the Musa Dagh survivors by ship.
In Werfel’s novel, as in history, the moral question is about the responsibility of uninvolved observers. Without a moral compass, bystanders to brutality waver over their options until the possibility for action is gone.
The Garden of Allah
The Garden of Allah brings moral issues down to the level of marriage.
Both marriage partners had had strong faith at one time. Domini’s faith dwindled; Boris rejected his.
The central question of the novel and the marriage is whether the individual puts his or her needs above those of the spouse. The question can only be answered by a muscular faith in obedience to the moral compass.
You or I may not approve of the direction chosen by the characters in some of these novels. Yet each novel shows the value of having a moral in a world that sets its course by opinion polls.
©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni