[This is a review I wrote a while back of a book I loved and considered very important. I thought I had posted the review on this site but as it doesn’t seem to be here so, as it is even more relevant today than it was then, I am posting the review again.]
At first sight, it is just another story of international mayhem and intrigue, with a mysterious ancient artifact thrown in for good measure. But the author wastes no time in letting us know this novel is much more than that. In Chapter 1, we find ourselves in the company of Pope Benedict. (This must be a first! I was hooked immediately.) Ex-Pope Benedict, I should say, the Pope Emeritus, for this is now, he has retired, and Pope Francis holds the reins. Or seems to. In the background, it is obvious that Benedict is still very much in control while Francis is the exoteric front-man, the smiling face the public sees and loves.
The concerns of the highly intellectual Benedict are more esoteric. From him, no secret seems to be hid, whether those of the Vatican itself or the world of global intelligence. And among the cast of the book is President Putin, here a personal friend of the ex-Pope and very much one of the good guys.
But to put you squarely in the picture, let me quote (I can’t resist it) from that first chapter. This is Pope Benedict speaking:
“While the West has turned its back on the Christian refugees fleeing from both the madness they unleashed in Iraq and Syria and the mess they have now ignited in Egypt and across North Africa, only Russia’s relationship with the Orthodox Church has given these people reassurance. Our Catholic flocks in these countries only look to Russia now. […] Many of the Syrian Christians fleeing now are Armenian and some of the most intense fighting is in Der Zor. Do you recall its significance? It’s literally built on the bones of Armenians driven from their homeland. They’re starving once again, being driven from their homes once again. And now we learn that even their Genocide Memorial Church, containing the remains of hundreds of thousands of their grandparents, has been blown up by the Islamic State. You know we never answered their pleas and prayers before. The West made promises, but it was Russia that saved them from extinction. […] The Egyptian Copts, the Maronites, the Syriacs, and the Armenians are completely vulnerable. The Syrian Catholics have been telling us for years that Assad is their protector, just as Iraq’s Saddam protected his Christians. You knew that Tarik Aziz, Saddam’s foreign minister, was a Chaldean Christian? […] Christians held prominent positions in Iraq. Many Christian Iraqi women were among the foremost professionals and doctors, but the Americans seemed indifferent to their fate. They are passionate about their friendship with the Saudis, yet claim concern for the rights of women …”
Right now, today, the story is stunningly topical and enlightening. We have, in the novel, the Turks as the bad guys wanting to realise their historic “pan-Turkic plan” “to link Turkey with the oil-fields of Baku”, making the Turkmen of Syria – and even those of Turkmenistan – part of Greater Turkey and killing off the remaining Armenians, whom they seem to particularly loathe, and the rebellious Kurds. And in the news today we have Turkey shooting down a Russian plane, claiming it was over Turkish territory when in fact it was flying over the Turkmen area of Syria at the request of the legitimate (recognised by the UN) Syrian Government.
I rarely say DO READ THIS, but do; it is an eye-opener as well as being a story that will keep you up all night and remain engraved on your memory for the rest of your life.