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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a holiday blockbuster
Part thriller, part 'contemporary historical novel of dazzling virtuosity'. Flawed on both counts this book is still a good read.
Nick Karolides, Miranda Powers and Jack Queller are Americans in Tanzania. An aid worker, an embassy worker and a spy thrown together by tragedy: the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam.
As a thriller 'Zanzibar' takes some...
Published on 17 Nov 2002 by Amazon Customer

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The (bitter) taste of paradise
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...
Published on 16 Aug 2009 by Adam


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The (bitter) taste of paradise, 16 Aug 2009
By 
Adam (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Zanzibar (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. It spoke me and told me to give up this trick. To do some things I should have done long time before.' " Who would ever speak like this?!

Foden takes great interest in the stump of a central character who had his arm amputated and lost his wife. The effects of these occurrences are eschewed in favour of fetishist descriptions of the stump and appalling `insights' into what it is like to lose a spouse (eg, "...wondering if he would have peace before the rising dawn. Or ever, until he saw... the edge of Being where the Prophet on his Night Journey received God's instructions before returning to earth. The edge of Being, beyond which his Lucy was." WHAT?!). Further, Foden characterises this puppet as merely critical of everything, which does not help us to understand him as a fully formed human being.

The novel's heroine is pathetic: she has some sort of undefined attachment to a dead father (the fact that it is undefined is perfectly natural and worth exploring but Foden seems to stick it on her like a temporary tattoo). She has no real emotional core: we see how she responds dumbly to external stimuli rather than gaining an insight into her mind. Our hero is much the same, a bore about whom a novel should never, ever have been written.

Finally, the story itself is woeful. Considering it is supposed to be an adventure/thriller, the action takes place only in the fourth quarter (the first three are pap, failed attempts at tension-building and characterisation). If Foden really wanted to tell a decent story he would have thrown us straight into the action rather than wasting our time with the lumpy chaff that should have never made it out of his notebook.

This book is so disappointing and downright terrible that I could go on for hours. But I don't want to waste any more time. I've got better things to do.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars draft for a forthcoming movie? Disappointing novel, 3 Jan 2003
By 
Mr. Scott Wortley (Falkirk, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Zanzibar (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. Instead the plot centres around a young American marinne biologist Nick, (Memo to central casting - man on a mission, driven, unable to commit: promising for Ben Affleck?), and his sometime love interest Miranda, a diplomat at the US embassy in Tanzania (memo to central casting - attractive, strong woman, stumbling into love, powerful scenes when on solo investigation. All scantily clad sections wholly essential to plot due to extreme hear: Try J-LO?). Neither wholly convinces, and the love story feels like a pitch for a movie.
I wonder if the book was rushed out to remain topical. It could have benefited from a longer gestation, the paring down of the plot, the building up of the characters.
The pages keep turning, but a week after I've finished the novel there are few scenes that remain in the mind, no long lasting impression. One could say it was perfect airline reading, and one can see a big budget all action movie, if it were not for the problem that Foden makes clear the complicity of the US in the development of bin Laden's movement.
On the strength of Foden's previous work I will look forward to his next novel, but I don't think I'll be revisiting Zanzibar.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Derivative, disappointing, dire., 10 July 2009
A Kid's Review
This review is from: Zanzibar (Paperback)
Oh dear me, no. Don't waste your time or money - Foden can write far better than this embarrassing effort.

It all seemed such a good idea at first; a Desmond Bagley cast-off plot about an "ordinary person" crossing paths with a (then) little known network of extreme Islamist fanatics. He did his research, invented cardboard cut-out characters and wrote a competent, if somewhat wooden story... thus a slightly naff but unobjectionable airport novel was almost born.

However, just as it is nearing completion, History catches up and the name Al Quida is on everybody's lips, and (one charitably assumes) the publisher gives Giles the old Hurry-Up! suggesting he turn up the gas in the remaining few chapters so the film rights can be touted with the magic phrase, "action packed"...

Alas, the result is a dog's dinner of a novel which spends the first 75% as dull and worthy as a plain manilla envelope before lurching into a risible and over-written action finale that is so utterly implausible and full of cliché it could hurt your eyes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dire, derivative and embarrassing, 10 July 2009
This review is from: Zanzibar (Paperback)
Oh dear me, no. Don't waste your time or money - Foden can write far better than this embarrassing effort.

It all seemed such a good idea at first; a Desmond Bagley cast-off plot about an "ordinary person" crossing paths with a (then) little known network of extreme Islamist fanatics. He did his research, invented cardboard cut-out characters and wrote a competent, if somewhat wooden story... thus a slightly naff but unobjectionable airport novel was almost born.

However, just as it is nearing completion, History catches up and the name Al Quida is on everybody's lips, and (one charitably assumes) the publisher gives Giles the old Hurry-Up! suggesting he turn up the gas in the remaining few chapters so the film rights can be touted with the magic phrase, "action packed"...

Alas, the result is a dog's dinner of a novel which spends the first 75% as dull and worthy as a plain manilla envelope before lurching into a risible and over-written action finale that is so utterly implausible and full of cliché it could hurt your eyes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars what a bore, 23 Oct 2007
By 
This review is from: Zanzibar (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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How disappointing, 6 Sep 2002
By 
This review is from: Zanzibar (Hardcover)
I had so enjoyed his last books, Ladysmith and the Last King of Scotland and had learnt so much from them as the historical side of his writing was wonderful but this book was clearly written with a film contract in mind. I felt it was nothing more than an airport thriller, all precast and set to music at the time of writing, so very disappointing.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Scary to think that Osama was waiting in the wings...., 21 Dec 2010
This review is from: Zanzibar (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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3.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched but a bit flat, 4 Jan 2010
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This review is from: Zanzibar (Paperback)
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. Easy to read and, as is usual nowadays, very well researched - communications technology, coral reefs, fish, flora, Islam, security institutions and procedures. Not very involving though. The characterisation is occasionally quite good but the chief villain is like a 1930s Hollywood caricature.
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3.0 out of 5 stars One for the Holidays, 31 May 2008
This review is from: Zanzibar (Paperback)
Unlike his other novels, this tale feels more like a conventional thriller as the writer explores the background to US Embassy bombings. Throughout the tale, he weaves recent history with the development of his narrative and shows a strong understanding of the issues underpinning the fractured society. For me, there was a sense that the narrator was more interested in exploring these questions than in developing his narrative and some of the characterisation felt rather sketchy and stereotypical. The main woman, Miranda, seems ignorant of important issues whilst other figures such as the terrorists never really leap off the page.
Yet this is not an easy novel to put down. The plot is well-structured and moves forward rapidly and economically whilst the descriptions of the African locations are detailed and vivid. The final paragraphs are written beautifully and invite a reflective repsonse from the reader that helps to lift this novel above more formulaic thrillers.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a holiday blockbuster, 17 Nov 2002
This review is from: Zanzibar (Hardcover)
Part thriller, part 'contemporary historical novel of dazzling virtuosity'. Flawed on both counts this book is still a good read.
Nick Karolides, Miranda Powers and Jack Queller are Americans in Tanzania. An aid worker, an embassy worker and a spy thrown together by tragedy: the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam.
As a thriller 'Zanzibar' takes some time to wind-up. Most of the action occurs in the last third of the book but in setting the scene meticulously Foden does us a favour with his description of Zanzibar.
The characterisation is less well hewn. The older, whiter and more masculine it is, the more convincingly his cast is portrayed. Crusty old Leggatt is my favourite.
Of course this is not history; it is one link in a chain of current events started in the Cold War and going on in the 'War on Terrorism'.
Perhaps wisely Foden skates over the bombers who, though crucial to the plot, are incidental to the narrative and real events are reported, jarring the storytelling.
As the pace quickens the reader is torn between the urge to skip sections and the fear of missing something. In a great thriller the urge is overwhelming but you do not give in. 'Zanzibar' passes the test, just. You do care, and although he may not be the best fisherman, once Foden has you hooked he plays you like a barracuda in the Indian Ocean.
For many history stopped on September 11, 2001 and when it started again the World was a more dangerous place. Although there is no mention of those events, 'Zanzibar' trashes the notion September 11 was a one-off.
The image that lingers is not the palms of Zanzibar or bustle of Dar, impressively though they are drawn, it is the haunting vision, barely described, that Bin Laden will strike again. The hydra-like nature of al-Qaida ensures it.
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Zanzibar
Zanzibar by Giles Foden (Paperback - 3 July 2003)
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