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Zanzibar Paperback – 3 Jul 2003

2.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (3 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571205178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571205172
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.1 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 826,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Zanzibar is Giles Foden's ambitious, if somewhat flawed third novel. Like his previous books, its setting is beautiful but abused Africa and its backbone is provided by real events, in this case, prophetically, the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Tanzania by Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaida network. (In an author's note Foden explains that most of the novel was actually completed before the events of September 11, 2001.)

Zanzibar is ostensibly a political thriller-cum-romantic adventure yarn. An ageing maverick CIA agent, Jack Quiller, a motorcycling, marine biologist, Nick Karolides, and a young, ambitious American embassy staffer Miranda Powers, become, as the book jacket says, "embroiled in a terrorist conspiracy". It's not however, a simplistic heroes versus villains story. The Clinton/Lewinsky scandal provides an omnipresent backdrop, bin Laden puts in an appearance and the book's overriding theme is the nature of moral responsibility. As with his impressive Idi Amin-centred debut The Last King of Scotland, Foden is interested in exploring the grey area between good and evil. Quiller, for instance, helped train bin Laden--or Mr Sam as he was once affectionately known by the CIA. Betrayed and scarred for life by bin Laden, he is the only agent who believes that he poses a serious threat. Khaled al-Khidr, an islander who joined al-Qaida after the murder of his parents, realises, unfortunately too late, that terrorism is against the teachings of Allah. Fragments of the island's troubled colonial history, liberally distributed throughout the tale, also help broaden the ethical tapestry.

Unfortunately, much of Zanizbar's power is diluted by a completely unconvincing love story. Quiller and al-Khidr are marginalised by the unprepossessing Nick Karolides and Miranda Powers, who, although they drive much of the narrative, are little more than stock thriller characters. Powers is a feisty female who adored her late father. Karolides, also mourning the loss of his father, is a sensitive yet hunky environmental scientist. Their emotional range is further hampered by the fact that Foden equips them with Mall Rat-style--"Man, she looked good", "big way", "the old guy, he was really nice"--American parlance. It's almost as if a cigar-chewing Hollywood mogul with an eye on the film rights has demanded a "love interest" and Foden has duly obliged. Despite its faults it's good to see a writer at least attempting to wrestle, if a little didactically, with Islamic fundamentalism and American Imperialism. --Travis Elborough --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'The bombing of the world trade centre in 1993, was I'm afraid to say only the beginning' Jack Queller; 'Giles Foden is the most original and interesting novelist of his generation.' Allan Massie, The Scotsman

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Alpha-ordered my bookshelves. Scrubbed the skirting boards. Written a concept album. There are so many things I could have done with my free time this past week. Instead, I chose to read Giles Foden's Zanzibar. What a mistake! The thing about this book is that it is very much like the island of its setting: from a distance, it is enticing and exciting but up close you realise that it is filthy, full of problems and a disorganised mess. Despite this, Zanzibar itself is still charming; Foden's novel is not. I was drawn to Zanzibar, like so many other lemmings, by the achievement of Foden's previous work The Last King of Scotland and the fact that it is set in one of the world's most culturally and historically fascinating places. But what a disappointment!

The novel follows a young American as he arrives on Zanzibar and starts work on a coral protection programme, a(nother) young American as she graduates from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and is posted to the US embassy in Tanzania, and a self-styled American `Arabist', an expert in terrorism perpetrated by supposed Muslims. Oh, and there is a young Zanzibari man who is duped into joining al-Qaeda and ends up plotting and executing a bombing at the US embassy in Tanzania.

There are so many things wrong with this distasteful little book that I don't know where to start, but with Khaled (the Zanzibari) is as good a place as any. What could have been a sensitive, detailed examination of how a young mind is brainwashed into believing a violent theology is, in Foden's hands, turned into a confusing, disappointing portrayal. Poor Khaled is a two-dimensional character with less depth than a puddle on a dry day. Worse, in the end, he is reduced to a repentant simpleton: " `Do not thank me. Thank Allah. His voice spoke me.
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Format: Hardcover
Giles Foden is a journalist and his first two novels were very promising. The Last King of Scotland, a fascinating study of Idi Amin and the charisma of power and corruption - and one of the best first novels of the 1990s; Ladysmith, a fine siege novel. On the strength of these two novels Foden was proclaimed by Allan Massie one of the best young British novelists. However, while the big breakthrough as a literary novelist awaits it is customary for promising British novelists to turn their attention to cinema. One cannot blame them. There is little money to be made in literary fiction, even as one of the best young British novelists. So, a young man's fancy will turn to thoughts of big name actors, big budget action thrillers, and the end result sees novels by numbers. Sadly Giles Foden seems to have followed the same path as Philip Kerr.
This novel deals with al-Qaida and the US embassy bombings of the late 1990s. The novel was substantially completed before 11.9.2001 and its content evidences the diligence of Foden's researches into ther organisation (although there is a didacticism here that is not present in his earlier novels). It looks at the early links between bin Laden's organisation and the American CIA, one of the three central western characters being a CIA agent involved in training al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. This strand is for me the most successful part of the novel. Quiller is an interesting character, battling his past failure, trying to make recompense. He echoes those characters that populate Foden's previous novels (although even aspects of his character - such as his missing limb - feel like caricature). However, Quiller is off centre too often.
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Format: Hardcover
Read till the end of Chapter 12 and decided I had more important things to do with my life than finish this badly written drivel. Formulaic characters forecast the plot - one who moans on and on about his lost arm ("...but the bad feelings were still there, his fist was still clenched. His only fist." Aaaaaaahhh. This is appalling writing. Read last three paragraphs of Ch 12 for a wonderful wince; two who moan about their lost fathers. Oh! gives us a break...or better still some LeCarre.
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Format: Paperback
I must admit that when I saw the author had also written "The Last King of Scotland," I felt it had to be good. Obviously "Zanzibar" is not in the same league but I enjoyed this novel for what it offers -- a well-written thriller in an exotic locale that interplays with well-documented historical events.

In particular I value the attention paid by Foden to the terrible human tragedies caused by the simultaneous explosions in Kenya and Tanzania. Yes, these were reported in the western press, but few people outside Africa understood their full significance.

Personally I was horrified and disgusted to learn how closely the US had worked with bin Laden and Al Qaeda in its fight against the former Soviet Union. If only for this reason, I would encourage others to read this engaging thriller.

Based on my own experience, I believe that Foden adequately captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of US embassies and consulates abroad, not my favorite environment. It's a pity that one of the protagonists sees no other way out of that closed world than to take his own life.
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