- 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)
Zanzibar Paperback – 3 Jul 2003
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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 ScotsmanSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book shows the terrorist plots from a different perspective as well as introducing a part of the world not visited by most.Published on 13 Dec. 2013 by Mrs Patricia C Collin
A contemporary espionage thriller, set at the time of al-Qaeda's bombing of the embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam (1998), this book gets its strength from its very topicality. Read morePublished on 4 Jan. 2010 by Martin White
Oh dear me, no. Don't waste your time or money - Foden can write far better than this embarrassing effort. Read morePublished on 10 July 2009
Oh dear me, no. Don't waste your time or money - Foden can write far better than this embarrassing effort. Read morePublished on 10 July 2009 by Cosmicomics
Unlike his other novels, this tale feels more like a conventional thriller as the writer explores the background to US Embassy bombings. Read morePublished on 31 May 2008 by b
What is most impressive about this novel is Foden's knowledge and the additional research he must have done for this book. Read morePublished on 26 Jan. 2007 by Ralph Blumenau
In 1998 Al-Qaida terrorists attacked the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. In this book Giles Foden, who specilizes in turning African historical events into... Read morePublished on 14 Oct. 2005 by Linda Oskam
Having read Ladysmith, I was keen to read this novel. However I did not find it as gripping as his previous work. Read morePublished on 26 Feb. 2004 by Olly_B