The Incidental Jihadi follows Len as he begins to realize there is a complicated game being played between the communist and the west. What was the inspiration for the idea behind this thrilling novel?
Back in 2012 the coverage on the Syrian crisis was quite rampant on the news with the images of high profile Caucasian victims in orange being executed by the vanguard in black. Around that time after a few freak clicks on the web I came across the recorded brutalities against Syrian civilians on what was surely an underground website. There lay cataloged in various categories the shootings, be-headings and post bomb blast videos taken in Aleppo, Idlib and a few remote unnamed Syrian villages.After confirming the authenticity of the videos and their location a few times(which was probably the most shocking and challenging research I had ever done) those unknown victims begged to be heard. I realised that no one was truly reporting the situation on the ground and ‘the news’ is not just about facts like the body count! The news broadcasters were just screening out the details to reduce this ongoing tragedy to a mere topic for the fortnight. No one wants to see a beheading while shoveling food in their mouths and I get that. But we must make room in people’s minds on the actual impact of any war for that matter and that needs to be done with realism which is on the ground and preferably not censored. This formed an idea to read beyond the news and perceive it’s reality and the inspiration stayed throughout till I completed the novel.
Len is an interesting character that is motivated by his family and their safety. What were some themes you wanted to explore with his character?
Len could be anyone of us who is physically able and a well educated immigrant living in a country where his efforts pay him excellent results. However none of us are actually ever prepared for what the future holds for us and what choices we make if we are faced with distressing situations beyond our control mould us as a human being. Far from being perfect and having a slightly sycophantic bend
he will do what his superior asks him to do even if it seemed ethically wrong and this trait is quite human especially in ambitious individuals. Len is reckless in his ambition and he makes the mistake
of involving his wife Sara in a project that had a warning light beeping on it from the word ‘go’. He descends into rage anger and depression as they are marooned in the remote city of Qatmah, this is
again a denial in his own mind of the rash choices he had made to appease his superior and endangered the one person he loved. Wave after wave of shocking transformation in Len(his acceptance of a life in Qatmah, the change in his identity, his family’s abduction) and how he chose to accept it as a man shows how his character metamorphosed from someone in denial to someone who takes responsibility and acts appropriately and this is where Naim seems to be his alter ego but they are really the same person. I was hoping to show that come whatever a situation in life, the man who survives the longest is the one who does not live in denial of the responsibility of his actions. I wanted to explore his ability to keep doing the right thing even in the face of inevitable catastrophe.
The story is vivid and detailed in it’s account of people and places. What research did you undertake for this novel?
Besides the research into the distressing underground video material on the executions, I started reading up on the Middle Eastern conflict to understand it’s origins starting right after the end of the Second World war particularly around the time when the United States started exerting it’s political clout over Britain and France back in the fifties. That was just for historical perspective though as my perception changed after I met a few of the Syrians who had come to London to take refuge( we would never call them refugees, it just seemed a derogatory term to use). Their stories told in straight english sentences was as heartbreaking as it could be and the videos, the history and their accounts all tied together with the information I gathered from Arabic and African news journals. This was a point of view that people seldom saw and that is what I brought into the novel. In terms of geographical locations, names and places mentioned throughout the novel, they are all actual places and the actual novel gets more gripping when you lookup the places on, say, google maps and find that every bit of the descriptions including terrain, the people and even the castle. They are wonderful examples of actual places that are existing on the edge of the war and peace that keeps waxing and waning over the region.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I don’t believe I have completed Len’s development yet and there was a huge though entirely unintentional open end in this book: that of the fate of his wife. Len and Sara have a way of staying in my head, so there will be a final conclusion on their fate in my next book. I learnt a few lessons from my first novel, The Incidental Jihadi and this time I want to do justice to Sara and Len and the people they
have known and cared about. For this reason this is going to take at least a year in development and a year in editing. I just want it to be perfect.
Twenty-nine year old geologist/surveyor, Len Berkowicz has everything to live for: a wonderful companion and a successful career working for a major oil exploration company when his career mentor and friend, Eric decides to send him to a risk prone oil exploration project in the Golan Heights.
In his journey he assimilates the true nature of the ‘holy war’ through the eyes of his comrades, realising that a far more complicated and subtle ‘game’ played between the communist and capitalist powers on the ground.
Will Len succeed in his mission that seemed doomed right from its inception?
Can those of us living in the West be able to keep the dust at bay on our home turf when we decimate every Arabian state to rubble?
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Fazle gives the reader an insight into Middle East history, world politics and the role the United States plays in global affairs. I love that the author started the book by introducing the reader to Islam, Prophet Muhammad, and religion in the Arab world. The author explained that the Prophet Muhammad’s death brought division among. The prophet’s followers were not sure on who could take the mantle and who was fit to be the leader in Islam. The birth of Shia and Sunni Muslims came during the quest to succeed Prophet Muhammad.
This book demonstrates life in Muslim Arab, the culture, how different Muslim factions relate, governance and authority in the Middle East. The author did a great job explaining the Islamic terms used in the text. It made the reading easier, seeing that I was unfamiliar with some of the words and phrases. This book made me understand the difference between the Shia and Sunni Muslims and their separate practices and beliefs. It is amazing that despite the two groups being dissimilar in some ways, they both worship the same God. Even in disagreements, we could see that the Shia and Sunni Muslim acknowledged that Allah was great and that only he deserved to be worshipped. This shows how religion plays a part in bringing different people together. We may have opposing views, but our worship of the same God brings us together.
Among the things I enjoyed reading about in the book were the wars between the Safavids and Ottomans. The Safavids militia could have been great if not for the infighting and lack of discipline. My heart broke when I read about Ismail I’s death at age thirty-six due to depression and alcoholism. He was at his peak. 36 is such a young age for anyone to die. Operation Ajax was another interesting read. America’s CIA’s and Britain’s MI6 involvement what the Iranians called ‘28 Mordad coup d’état’ was crucial.
There are so many stories in “promises Of Betrayal” that one needs to dedicate special time to read and understand all the events mentioned. Some of the terms used are unfamiliar, but the reader eventually comes to understand the context.
The author not only tells a story in the book but also educates the reader on other matters like religion, economics, politics, war, and intelligence in governments. I loved that Fazle wrote this book targeting not just history lovers, but anyone who is interested in current and past affairs on a global scale.
Reading about past historical events in this book showed me how leaders deal with issues presented to them. It is an enlightening read that anyone interested in world politics, or the middle east will enjoy.
Pages: 234 | ISBN: 978-1-4808-6988-2 (sc) ISBN: 978-1-4808-6989-9 (e)
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Masks by Nataly Restokian is salacious from the very beginning. We’re brought into the story where two relative strangers are having a one-night stand, one married woman with a lover on the side! It may appear to be an adult erotica novel at first, but keep reading, this is only one of the many layers to the plot that got me hooked and kept me flipping pages.
The protagonist is a fiery but spirited female named Anna that is surrounded by the glitz and glamour of the television industry. She is beautiful and successful, with her own show that sets her up to be an icon to woman in her country. The background setting gives the story a more visceral feel as one goes through the story. Anna is confident, daring, unstoppable and vivacious, but she is also hurting, bitter and cynical. She puts on her masks, as props to keep up appearances, lest others take advantage of her. The story evolves quickly and picks up speed from the risque beginning. Anna’s pursuit of happiness takes the reader on an emotional ride through the dark side of fame and fortune.
The story takes place in different cities throughout the middle-east which give you the same globe trotting feeling that Anna must have felt. I’ve never visited any of these places so this all seemed magically exotic to me. The settings are genuine and natural and lend to the emotional turmoil of the story.
There is a fresh feel in the author’s approach as she has been a keen observer of the societal nuances of the region, and is able to express it in terms that I felt were original and thought provoking. People from the west are inundated with reports everyday in the media and news channels about the region’s political and economic turmoil and forgets completely about the people, as individuals, living their lives. Hoping for a better future, like Anna. That’s what I like most about this story, that it’s a human story that I could relate to, because sometimes we too wear masks. I admire this story because it casts the region and culture in a different light, one that is not a hot spot for terror but instead brings forth the spirit of resilience. The spirit that makes people persevere in the face of difficulties and yet still have a passion for life. People that are scarred by their past, but not a prisoner of it. I feel that Anna embodies this spirit. I was intrigued by the exotic setting, Anna’s complex character, and the twists and turns that the story took as she risked it all in her quest for love and acceptance. I highly recommend this book.
Pages: 221 | ASIN: B07BB6RMDS
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A young American physician Dr. Scott Fitzgerald from Pennsylvania sets out on a journey to fulfill his fathers dream by returning to Afghanistan where his father Bryan had spent nearly twenty years as the first American in that remote kingdom. Bryan had befriended Prince Akbar, the hero of First Anglo-Afghan, and won the hearts and minds of Afghans receiving a golden sword and the title of the American Prince. Like his father, Scott wanted to take the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution to the farthest lands of the world. Following many adventures he joins Prince Ayoub, the hero of the Second Afghan War.
Scott travels from Philadelphia across Europe, Russia, Afghanistan, India to the Far East. He returns with lessons learned and truths he discovered and writes them in this book to reach the present and future generations. He regards the American Republic as an indestructible fortress of freedom and democracy that all extremes of left and right factions are inevitably drawn back into the fortress of ‘Immortal Ideas”, built by their forefathers with their genius, their fortunes and their lives. Scott believes, as Americans we have never claimed to convert or to rule the world. We just want for others to have the same inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of their own happinesss.
Scott quotes a great American, The Constitution of the United States is the impassioned and inspired vehicle by which we travel through history. It grew out of the deepest inspiration of our existence that we are here to serve Him by living free. That living free, releases in us the noble impulses and our best abilities so that we use these precious gifts for good and generous purposes and that we will secure them not just only for ourselves and our children but for all mankind.
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Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet is a genre-crossing novel with elements of romance, mystery, and suspense as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
I’ve learnt much from reading about other people, and their stories. I’ve always enjoyed entering different worlds. But it haunted me that I was seeing a world that nobody else was sharing. Perhaps its my background; I was born in a migrant camp of refugee parents, and have spent my life travelling the world. I’ve lived and worked in so many countries. Believe it or not, for a time I lived in Syria, Iraq, and Libya – these are places in the book – and the people I met were all normal; all just trying to get on. But when I returned back to the West, the images portrayed of these places in the news horrified me. I decided to tell a story set in the Middle East. No clichés; no stereotypes – I wanted to tell it how it really is. I took real people I knew, and I took the real problems they faced; loves, family, work, and religion. I wanted my readers to meet ordinary people in the extraordinary circumstances of that Arabian world so far away from everyday life in the USA. I wanted my readers to wonder if this could possibly be true, then to slowly realize it was, and be amazed.
Ricky has a tumultuous but passionate relationship with Breeze. What was your inspiration for their relationship?
When writing about the characters – not only Ricky, Breeze and Leoni, but all of them – I did my best to make them as blameless as I could. I mean by this, that I wanted the reader to picture themselves in the dilemmas they all faced, wonder what they would do, and then be able to sympathize with how each character actually reacted. I thought of it as a chess game. If you were in poverty, how far would you go to escape? If you were alone, to what lengths would you go to find love? What was the best move? The answer will always be a trade-off. But given the incredible barriers they all faced, none of them could have it all; it came down to making singular choices – choosing one dream; one priority. And in making their choice, each character sacrificed the dreams of others. Well, I have to say, it surprised me how readers reacted. In all the reviews I’ve had, readers either love or hate Breeze; they think Ricky is incredibly spineless or courageous. If there is no middle ground when the facts are clear, what hope do people have finding compromise in the uncertainties of real life?
Ricky was a well-developed character that continued to develop throughout the story. What were the morals you were trying to capture while creating your characters?
Religion was an important part of the story. Ricky is a lukewarm Christian – a Filipino Catholic – living in an Islamic world. Walid, Ricky’s devout Moslem friend, is the sounding-board against which ideas about faith flow back and forth. And then there is Breeze, a daughter of Chinese parents who had endured the amoral excesses of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She is immune to religion. How do we live with religion’s patent contradictions? How do we reconcile the mutual-exclusivity of different faiths? And yet, how do we find a moral compass – meaning and purpose – with no faith at all? These questions clash as Ricky and Breeze navigate their many problems. Ricky’s journey is ultimately one in which he loses the things he wants, but takes on the person he needs to be. Whether you are religious or not, the message in the story is that Truth alone makes you strong. We are all dependent on each other, whether we like it or not, and for that we need to be united one with another. Dictatorships never last; neither coercion, deceit nor unwelcome dependencies. Only a common Truth can hold a family, community or nation together. But in order to build relationships with others, you first need to find that Truth in yourself.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My next book will be released in July, 2018. It’s called; When Spring Comes Around. It is a story set in Japan during the 2009 financial crisis. I lived in Japan for some ten years and spent quite a bit of my time working in the securities sector. Let me admit that this too is a story based on real events. Haru, an options trader, is about to be assigned overseas, to New York. But as is the policy of the company, he needs to be married before he can go. The problem is that Haru doesn’t even have a girlfriend, and has no experience with women. His boss introduces Haru and the other company bachelors to prospective brides as they sit under the cherry blossoms at the annual Spring Festival picnic. As fate would have it, sitting amongst them is one of the office girls for whom Haru has developed a fantasy. In the end, Haru dutifully marries Reiko, but also begins an affair with Emily. When the financial crisis hits, Haru loses his job, and finds himself exiled to a menial sales position in far-away Akita in northern Japan. There, alone and humiliated, he wrestles with his passions and the burdens of supporting a heavy mortgage and new unknown wife back in Tokyo.
Kuwait is a country where the poor from around the world gather to serve the rich. Ricky, a Filipino, is among them. He left his IT job in China to forget the sudden and violent break-up with his Chinese girlfriend. Seven months on and Ricky gets a phone call from Breeze. She wants reconciliation. Alone in a foreign land, and isolated by an unfamiliar culture and religion, Ricky agrees. He is reassigned to Tripoli, Libya, and plans to meet up with Breeze along the way, in Cairo. From there the adventure begins. Through Saudi, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Kuwait, and finally back to China, Ricky and Breeze struggle with the legacies of poverty, dislocation, past loves, and family obligations, as they seek a path to their hopes and dreams. This is the tale of two people who want and need each other, but whose destinies refuse to stay intertwined.
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Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet, by Igor Martek, follows the trials and tribulations of Ricky, a man facing one dilemma after another in his life in the Middle East. Ricky is a Filipino man making his way in Kuwait and struggling to come to terms with his career demands while taming the turmoil that is his love life. When Breeze, his girlfriend from China, is not in the picture, Ricky is coping with a love lost with Leoni. The on-and-off love triangle that looms over Ricky leaves him contemplating his life choices and provides readers with a character who is philosophical, introspective, and, at times, a bit morbid.
Ricky often finds himself at odds with his own desires. As a character, he is trusting–far too trusting, in fact. Over the course of the book, he runs the gamut of emotions. He finds himself contemplating religious expectations, the course of his career, and the real reasons he may or may not belong with Breeze.
I found myself hard-pressed to like Breeze; it was a real struggle. As a reader, I wanted desperately for Ricky to find himself, find a way to cope with Breeze’s flighty nature, and realize her true intentions. The author does a wonderful job of keeping frustration levels high in that respect. If anything, Breeze is true-to-life. There is no fairy tale resolution where she is concerned. The relationship between Ricky and Breeze runs hot and cold, and I felt myself quickly realizing that Ricky could do much better than Breeze. Her tendency to talk down to him and to leave him wondering where he stands left me disconcerted and hurting for him.
As much disdain as I held for Breeze, I may have disliked Leoni even more. She, too, comes in and out of Ricky’s life with little or no warning and shakes up his emotions, his intentions, and his choices. Leoni seems to use Ricky to stroke her own ego and comfort herself following each of her subsequent divorces. Martek has created quite the triangle with Leoni, Breeze, and Ricky. Ricky spends a lot of time recounting his past experiences with both women, and the story tends to bounce back and forth fairly randomly.
Martek paints beautiful pictures of his settings. His vivid details in scenery and the cuisines of each of the cultures depicted are quite appealing and provide fantastic visuals as the reader watches the story unfold. In addition, the author includes history lessons throughout Ricky’s story.
Martek is an eloquent writer of fiction and is more than capable of writing in the romance genre. While Martek has woven an intricate tale that immerses the reader in culture, drama, and clings to intense and realistic personal relationships, it does lack humor. The serious nature of the story doesn’t lend itself well to overtly comedic moments, but the overall tone seems too sober. Well-placed, light-hearted moments would be a welcome addition to the story line.
Pages: 173 | ASIN: B0771PDS4G
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This award winning moving and unforgettable novel, East of Mecca, tells a timely, harrowing, and heartbreaking story of love and betrayal, the transcendent power of sisterhood, and the ultimate price of oppression. Driven by financial desperation, Sarah and Max Hayes are seduced by promises of a glamorous expatriate lifestyle in Saudi Arabia. Sarah surrenders her career when Max accepts a prestigious job with Ocmara Oil Company and they relocate their family to the shores of the Persian Gulf. Locked inside the heavily-guarded Ocmara compound, Sarah becomes invisible within the male-dominated, fundamentalist, Islamic Kingdom, which is governed by sharia law. Gradually, she is drawn into a clandestine, illicit friendship with Yasmeen, a Muslim Saudi woman. Together they find freedom beneath the veils and behind the walls of the Saudi women’s quarters—until inconceivable events force Sarah to make life-or-death decisions. Told with riveting authenticity and exquisite detail, East of Mecca explores gender apartheid through the abuse of absolute power with an elegant balance of cultural nuance and moral inquiry. Long after you have turned the last page, you will be haunted by the vivid characters and powerful scenes illuminating this tour de force. Winner of 2015 Silver Nautilus Book Award and also received an IndieReader recommended 5-star review.
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East of Mecca,by Sheila Flaherty, details the journey of Sarah Hayes from a wife and mother of two to a woman forever changed by her time spent in Saudi Arabia. Set in the 1980s, Sarah’s story begins when her husband Max, a highly-motivated but fairly unstable man, accepts a job with Ocmara, a lucrative oil company, and moves his family overseas. Sarah and her two young children soon experience oppression, fear, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness as residents of Al Hassa. Sarah’s life in the Middle East spirals out of control as she fights to keep her family together and save the life of a woman she never expected to adore.
Though I have fought hard to avoid the cliche, I have to say East of Mecca is a book I could not put down. From the moment Max tells Sarah of his job offer and their impending move, Sarah’s experiences flowed awkwardly with all the grace of a line of shaky but properly placed dominoes. I found myself holding my breath and waiting for the next collapse of Sarah’s world. At every turn, I expected her world to crash around her and ached alongside her while she slowly realized that her passport was not her own, nor were most of her choices–least of all her ability to work or make decisions.
Flaherty paints a bleak picture of life in Saudi Arabia while at the same time giving credit to its purity and breathtaking beauty. She manages to build a type of fear in the reader that I have yet to experience in any other book. Sarah, a strong woman in her own right, is the ideal character for the setting and events Flaherty creates. As I watched her virtually unbreakable spirit tested page after page, I was able to visualize with frightening ease the true depth of suffering and shocking brutality endured by women within the culture. Watching Sarah feel herself falter and face her own vulnerabilities drove home the plight of the other wives of Ocmara’s employees and the Saudi women. The author reveals heart-wrenching details of abuse and a sense of control by males that seems to spread like a virus to those who linger long enough within the country’s borders.
Sarah’s gradual meeting and ensuing friendship with Yasmeen is stretched throughout the storyline and keeps the reader yearning for just one more tidbit–one more clue. Flaherty manages to provide an element of mystery with Sarah’s sightings of Yasmeen, aloof and lonely on the beach, and then masterfully weaves it into a tale of two friends sharing a common bond of love and tragedy.
I am wholeheartedly rating East of Mecca a 5 out 5. Within its pages lies a tale all too true and far too common. There is an education of sorts to be had from absorbing oneself in Sarah’s utter desperation and final rebellion. The first person account is a must-read for women everywhere and a reread for myself. Flaherty’s Sarah and Yasmeen represent two ends of a spectrum, two cultures, yet they are one.
Pages: 300 | ASIN: B00FMY2CWI
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