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The Reckoning Kindle Edition
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Here's the premise: Theresa Fuller, an American journalist, is arrested by the dreaded Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein's secret police, while chasing a story in Kurdish Iraq with her photographer friend Peter Cranston. It's August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq. She has entered the country illegally and has dyed her blond hair dark so that she will not stand out. She is in her forties, unmarried. A sadistic Colonel Badr takes a special interest in her interrogation apparently because of something her father did or did not do some forty years earlier when he was a professor at a university in Baghdad and she was nine years old.
Enter a handsome unmarried Mukhabarat Captain named Tariq al-Awali--or actually, he is the one who arrests her and begins the questioning. He is gentle and attentive, perhaps he is the good cop and the monster Badr is the bad cop. And perhaps this will end well and perhaps it will not. And can it really be the case that a man trained in the techniques of torture is to be the hero?
Tanya Parker Mills keeps us guessing as she combines elements of the international espionage thriller genre with a chick lit focus amid a dramatic plot that forces the reader to turn the pages to find out what happens next. And a lot of what happens is not pretty, as might be surmised considering that Theresa is in the hands of some of Saddam Hussein's most notorious henchmen. Even sadistic son Quasi appears in a cameo.
Personally I was a bit put off by the unusual love affair, but so skillful is Mills in the telling that I found it entirely plausible. As for the little detail of their births that threatens to keep them apart (I cannot be more specific without spoiling the plot), I thought it a bit anticlimactic, coming as it does in the midst of so much violence, so many deaths, and such appalling torture. Part of the story actually takes place in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison before the Americans gained control there. I could not help but think (although this is entire extraneous to Mills' intention: she is carefully non political)--I could not help but think how horribly ironic it is that Bush, Cheney and others actually continued there what Saddam Hussein had started there.
And speaking of torture, since this is a story of torture, physical and mental, including torture as a means to dehumanize, I could not help but think of George Orwell's 1984. In that story the final triumph of the Party (a party not so very different from Saddam Hussein's Ba'thist Party) comes when Winston Smith is broken both physically and mentally and defeated as a human being when in terror he cries out "Do it to her!" In Mills' story Theresa heroically says to Colonel Badr who is about to have the electrodes put on Tariq's mother, "Hurt me...Use it on me." (p. 359) In this I believe that Mills is countering the conclusion that Orwell came to. Instead of losing our humanity as Winston lost his, Mills is telling us that human beings can rise above the purely physical.
It is clear that Mills also believes that the religious differences between Christians in the West and Muslims in the Middle East are not as significant as the humanity and the belief in a personal God that both religions share. We can see this in the way Tariq and Theresa both look to Allah/God as a source of strength in their lives through prayer without the need to distinguish one from the other in any way. I certainly hope this sense of easy and obvious tolerance becomes the norm some day.
It should be noted that Mills herself spent part of her childhood in the Middle East which accounts in part for how comfortable she is with the all the cultural aspects of the novel. However, it would be a mistake to imagine that this is a fictionalized memoir. Clearly this is a work of fictional art in the best tradition of the form, and clearly Mills herself is not Theresa. Yet it is also clear, as is often the case with the best fiction, that the heroine is very much someone with whom the author strongly identifies; and in this way the reader is led to also feel a close affinity for Theresa and what happens to her.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The author is obviously very familiar with the culture, geography, langauage, factions, and customs of this part of the world. She interspersed a great deal of information easily throughout the storyline; for example, when Theresa was stung by a sandfly, the reader learns about this insect, the boil it can produce, and the remedies available for treatment, all without interfering with the storyline. The author provides this education unobstrusively about many subjects throughout the book.
On a personal note, I took great pleasure in the portrayal of the American military, and their role in interrupting an evil government and the strangle-hold they had over their people. I felt gratified that our leaders invaded Iraq in 2002, WMD or not. After reading this book, I believe that doing so saved many more lives than it took, and improved the quality of life for millions. And, it is nice to see our military portrayed as the heroes that they are.
So, five stars for a compelling read with wonderful twists, a powerfully transformative theme, and a satisfying ending.
Teresa Fuller, her cameraman, Peter Cranston, had planned to slip across the Boarder of Iraq long enough to get the details of a story she had been following. As soon as she had what she needed, they would quietly slip out of Iraq without being seen. That didn't happen and what they encountered was , , , well, I'll not go into anymore detail because You have to read the book to get the rest of the story. I promise you that you won't be disappointed.