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Map of Middle East with inset cover of Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel is set in the Middle East just before the Six-Day War in June, 1967.

The novel opens as an Israeli man on a tractor is killed by an exploding mine as he crosses a narrow demilitarized zone into Syria.

The Israelis suspect such incidents are trying to provoke them into military action.

They’re right.

Col. Safreddin, Syria’s director of security, has picked PLO field director Idris Jarrah to spark an incident for political reasons.

Jarrah knows the PLO is closing its Phoenician Banking Company account. He schemes to get bank owner Nuri Chakry’s help to keep from becoming Safreddin’s fall guy.

Meanwhile, Jakov Baratz, Israel’s director of military intelligence, is worried about an Israeli operative in Damascus whose cover is blown.

The characters in Morris L. West’s taut thriller aren’t particularly heroic or admirable: They are just as likely to be fighting for thrills as for their country.

West focuses on characters’ personalities and motivations, providing little physical detail from which to craft mental images. I found it hard to remember who was who without mental pictures of them.

Torture scenes in the novel are tame compared to ISIS’s latest vidotape, but I for one find state-sponsored terrorism more frightening than lone wolves inspired by ISIS.


The Tower of Babel by Morris L. West
William Morrow, 1968. 361 p. 1968 bestseller #10. My grade: B+.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Despite its whopping length and gory topic — the Armenian genocide of 1915 —The Forty Days of Musa Dagh kept me riveted.

And it left me wanting to read the novel again to see what I missed.

Map of locale where Amenian genocide took place.

Map of locale of “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” inside the cover of early hardback editions.


The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel

Trans. Geoffrey Dunlop. Modern Library, Random House, 1934. 817 pages. My grade: A.


Gabriel Bagradian comes back to Armenia with his French wife and son. While he waits to be recalled to active duty in the Turkish army, Gabriel revisits his childhood haunts.

Sensing anti-Armenian feeling, Gabriel prepares to move the local population to Musa Dagh and fight from the mountain’s strategic position. He wins over the church leaders who rally the people.

Some 5,000 men, women, and children move to Musa Dagh and dig in, expecting to fight to the death.

The feisty Armenians don’t do so well at preparing to live.

A rainstorm ruins their bread and flour, leaving them nothing to eat but meat.

Jealousies and grievances fester.

Unsupervised teenage boys run wild.

Gabriel saves most of his people at an enormous cost to himself.

Franz Werfel writes formidable page-long paragraphs. Yet despite that, his prose flows, even in translation.

Werfel makes you care about the Armenians.

As a bonus, you’ll get insights into Christian-Islamic issues behind headlines on the evening news.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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