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Reading Geraldine Brooks's remarkable debut novel, Year of Wonders, or more recently March, which won the Pulitzer Prize, it would be easy to forget that she grew up in Australia and worked as a journalist. Now in her dazzling new novel, People of the Book, Brooks allows both her native land and current events to play a larger role while still continuing to mine the historical material that speaks so ardently to her imagination. Late one night in the city of Sydney, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator, gets a phone call. The Sarajevo Haggadah, which disappeared during the siege in 1992, has been found, and Hanna has been invited by the U.N. to report on its condition.
Missing documents and art works (as Dan Brown and Lev Grossman, among others, have demonstrated) are endlessly appealing, and from this inviting premise Brooks spins her story in two directions. In the present, we follow the resolutely independent Hanna through her thrilling first encounter with the beautifully illustrated codex and her discovery of the tiny signs-a white hair, an insect wing, missing clasps, a drop of salt, a wine stain-that will help her to discover its provenance. Along with the book she also meets its savior, a Muslim librarian named Karaman. Their romance offers both predictable pleasures and genuine surprises, as does the other main relationship in Hanna's life: her fraught connection with her mother.
In the other strand of the narrative we learn, moving backward through time, how the codex came to be lost and found, and made. From the opening section, set in Sarajevo in 1940, to the final section, set in Seville in 1480,these narratives show Brooks writing at her very best. With equal authority she depicts the struggles of a young girl to escape the Nazis, a duel of wits between an inquisitor and a rabbi living in the Venice ghetto, and a girl's passionate relationship with her mistress in a harem. Like the illustrations in the Haggadah, each of these sections transports the reader to a fully realized, vividly peopled world. And each gives a glimpse of both the long history of anti-Semitism and of the struggle of women toward the independence that Hanna, despite her mother's lectures, tends to take for granted.
Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless.
Margot Livesey'sThe House on Fortune Street will be published by HarperCollins in May 2008.Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Rare because haggadahs are seldom illuminated and precious for the quality of those illustrations, the Sarajevo Haggadah has survived the siege of that city, saved by a Muslim who headed the library at the National Museum. Rare books conservator Hanna Heath, summoned from Sydney to Sarajevo to evaluate it, finds tiny clues-an insect's wing, a wine stain, a hair-that establish its provenance and lead into flashbacks about the book's history, showing how it survived the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and the Nazis and how it came to be created in the first place. Not the least of these stories is Hanna's own. Brooks, whose March won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006, convincingly re-creates several unfamiliar settings-Seville in 1480, Barcelona in 1492, Venice in 1609, Vienna in 1894, Yugoslavian resistance to German occupation, and Sarajevo in 1996. Reader Edwina Wren, faced with re-creating all these accents, sometimes defaults to one that's generically foreign. Some of the many characters could also have been a little more developed, but this is both a literary novel and a popular hit, one of those big, ambitious, impossibly erudite books that pursue hidden knowledge through the ages. Recommended.
Adult/High School -Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservationist, is thrilled to be chosen to work on the rare illuminated Haggadah created in Spain in the Middle Ages. The book had been protected in a museum in Sarajevo until 1994, when it was rescued from certain plunder during the Bosnian conflict and hidden in a bank vault by a Muslim librarian. Hanna is as eager to learn and preserve the mysterious history of the codex as she is to restore the manuscript. How did it come to be illustrated, a practice believed to have been forbidden by Jewish law? What is the meaning of the wine stain, the hair, the insect wing, and the salt crystals? The author uses these artifacts to weave a thrilling tale of the unusual creation of the Haggadah in Seville in 1480 and its dangerous journey to Tarragona, Venice, Vienna, and finally Sarajevo. It is a story of the Inquisition and wars, and the enlightenment or ignorance of the men and women who would save or destroy this brilliant treasure. Integrated into these compelling vignettes is Hanna's own story: her passion for her work, her unhappy relationship with her mother, and her bittersweet love affair. Sophisticated teens will appreciate Hanna's sarcastic, witty observations, which mask a vulnerable lack of confidence. The mystery of the codex and the forensic examinations are intriguing and will keep readers eagerly awaiting the next revelation. Inspired by the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, Brooks has imagined a thrilling mystery and a history that has deep ramifications in our own time.-Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Brooks starts out easy. It's 1996 and Hannah Heath, an expert in rare books, has been lured from her laid-back life in Australia to Sarajevo, "where they just stopped shooting at each other five minutes ago." Hannah's job is to conserve and analyze the world-famous Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the earliest illuminated Jewish texts. The ancient manuscript, filled with images so rich and beautiful that it is now a priceless artifact, has appeared, vanished, and reappeared numerous times in its 500-year history. Its most recent rediscovery in war-torn Sarajevo, where a Muslim librarian has saved this Jewish holy book, is nothing short of a miracle.
Hannah, at age 30 a cranky and demanding loner, is the first expert to handle the Haggadah in more than a hundred years. Though uneasy in the bombed-out city, she's ecstatic at the chance to preserve the rare volume:
As many times as I've worked on rare, beautiful things, that first touch is always a strange and powerful sensation. It's a combination between brushing a live wire and stroking the back of a newborn baby's head.The Sarajevo Haggadah lives up to her expectations. Decorated with pigments made from silver and gold, saffron, malachite, and crushed lapis lazuli, it's a thing of extraordinary beauty. It also contains startling anomalies -- paintings of the human form done at a time when this was considered the highest sin, and the depiction of the earth as round, drawn when such a radical concept was punished by torture and death.
Though Brooks's book is a work of fiction, the Sarajevo Hagaddah itself is quite real. The author first learned of it during her stint covering the Bosnian war for The Wall Street Journal. When the manuscript suddenly resurfaced, speculation about where it had been, and how and by whom it had been saved over the course of its lifetime, fueled her imagination. With scant information to get in her way, Brooks was free to blend existing fact with her own lively fancy.
Though Hannah gets the story started, the series of tiny artifacts she finds in the binding of the Haggadah soon send us across the Continent and back in time. A fragment of an insect wing leads to Sarajevo in 1940. Right away, we reap the benefit of Brooks's gift for quickly setting a scene:
The wind blew across the Miljacka river, hard as a slap. Lola's thin coat was no protection. She ran across the narrow bridge, her hands thrust deep in her pockets. On the other side of the river, a set of rough-hewn stone stairs rose abruptly, leading to a warren of narrow lanes lined with shabby apartment buildings.Later, with equal deftness, Brooks lets us share a character's yearning for a long-lost home:
We do not feel the sun here. Even after the passage of years, that is still the hardest thing for me. At home, I lived in brightness. Heat baked the yellow earth and dried the roof thatch until it crackled.And here, with the sparest of imagery, Brooks walks a desperate boy onto a frozen river, then breaks your heart:
Embracing his little sister, he stepped off the bank, onto the ice. He walked to the center, where the ice was thin. His sister's head lay on his shoulder. They stood there for a moment, as the ice groaned and cracked. And then it gave way.Each object that Hannah finds within the pages of the Sarajevo Haggadah acts as a springboard for Brooks to tell a new piece of the tale. A missing decoration on the manuscript leads to fin-de-siècle Vienna, where German nationalism is on the rise. Wine stains on the parchment point to the Inquisition in Venice. A white hair reveals a series of surprising twists in 15th-century Spain. In between historical chapters, Hannah's own life takes center stage. A love affair, a family secret, and a betrayal send the story spinning.
Gathered together, the historical vignettes form a patchwork of information, not just about the manuscript's journey, but also about the long and tangled history of persecution among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Brooks's knowledge runs deep. She packs each page with history and context, then illuminates them with emotion.
I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that made it, used it, protected it. I wanted it to be a gripping narrative, even suspenseful. So I wrote and rewrote certain sections of historical background to use as the seasoning between the discussion of technical issues.That's Hannah explaining her approach to work, but it could just as easily be Brooks explaining the genesis of the novel.
For the most part, she -- and Hannah -- succeed. But a story made of fragments leads to a fragmented story. Though Brooks works hard to bring life and urgency to each new setting and cast of characters, the constant change can be jarring. The choice to move backward in time, from the present day to the Haggadah's creation in Spain five centuries ago, makes for a sometimes arduous read.
So keep that pen and paper handy. Write down names. Mark down dates. Using a map will probably help. How the lives of the people of the book merge, diverge, and reconnect forms the affecting arc of this ambitious and accomplished novel. --Veronique de Turenne
Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angelesbased journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers.
A Hot Tub in Las Vegas
When Congressman Charlie Wilson set off for a weekend in Las Vegas on June 27, 1980, there was no confusion in his mind about why he had chosen to stay at Caesars Palace. He was a man in search of pure decadent pleasure, and the moment he walked into the hotel and saw the way the receptionists were dressed, he knew he had come to the right place. No doubt there were other members of the Ninety-sixth Congress who fantasized about orgies and altered states. But had any of them chosen to take the kind of plunge that Charlie Wilson had in mind, you can be sure they would have gone to some trouble to maintain a low profile, if not don a disguise.
Instead Charlie strode into the lobby of Caesars almost as if he were trying to imitate his childhood hero, Douglas MacArthur, majestically stalking ashore to take back the Philippines. He looked in no way ashamed or uncertain about what he was doing in this center of gambling and entertainment.
In truth, it wouldn't have been easy for Wilson to fade into any background. Six foot seven in his cowboy boots, he was handsome, with one of those classic outdoor faces that tobacco companies bet millions on. And he just didn't have the heart or the temperament to operate in the shadows; he felt like a soldier out of uniform when he wasn't wearing his trademark bright suspenders and boldly striped shirts with their custom- designed military epaulets.
Moreover, Wilson had never been able to shake the politician's impulse to take center stage. He covered ground rapidly, shoulders back, square jaw jutting forward. There were no volume controls on his voice as he boomed out greetings with astonishing clarity-and people in the Caesars lobby turned to see who was making such a stir. He looked like a millionaire, but the truth was, after eight years in the Texas legislature and almost as many in the House, he had nothing to show for his efforts but debt and a $70,000-a-year government salary that didn't come near to supporting his lifestyle.
Along the way, however, Wilson had discovered that he didn't need money of his own to lead a big, glamorous life. The rules governing Congress were far looser in those days, and he'd become a master at getting others to pick up the tab: junkets to exotic foreign lands at government expense, campaign chests that could be tapped to underwrite all manner of entertainments, and, of course, the boundless generosity of friendly lobbyists, quick to provide the best seats at his favorite Broadway musicals, dinners at the finest Parisian restaurants, and romantic late-night boat parties on the Potomac.
All of which explains how the tall, charismatic congressman with the blazing eyes and the ever-present smile had grown accustomed to moving about the world with a certain flair. And so as he arrived in Las Vegas, he was observing his hard-and-fast rule that whenever he traveled, he went first class and tipped lavishly. The bellhops and receptionists at Caesars loved this, of course, and Wilson, in turn, appreciated their outfits: little white goddess robes showing lots of cleavage for the girls, and Roman togas and sandals for the bellhops.
In all of Vegas, there was no place like Caesars Palace in 1980. It was the first of the great hotel emporiums to be inspired by the fall of a civilization. Its promoters had had the genius to recognize that the sins of Rome could seem far more enticing than any contemporary offering; and as the young Roman in the toga whipped out the gleaming, two-inch-thick golden key to the Fantasy Suite, he opened a door designed to lead even the most pious of visitors straight to hell.
Charles Nesbitt Wilson comes from a part of the country very familiar with Satan. The Second Congressional District lies in the heart of the Bible Belt, and it may well be that Wilson's Baptist and Pentecostal constituents spend more time worrying about sin and wrestling with the Devil than just about any other group of Americans. JESUS IS THE LORD OF LUFKIN reads the huge sign in the center of the district's biggest city where Wilson maintained a house, on Crooked Creek Road.
The congressman did at least have one dim justification for being in Las Vegas that weekend. He could say he was there to help a constituent: the striking twenty-three-year-old Liz Wickersham, former Miss Georgia, fourth runner-up in the Miss America contest, soon-to-be Playboy cover girl, and, later, host of a CNN talk show that an admirer, Ted Turner, would create specifically for her. The free-spirited Wickersham was the daughter of one of Wilson's main fund-raisers, Charlie Wickersham, who owned the Ford-Lincoln dealership in Orange, Texas, where Wilson always got special deals on his huge secondhand Lincolns. When Liz moved to Washington, her father asked Wilson to show her around, which he did with great enthusiasm. He even took her to the White House, where he introduced her to Jimmy Carter, proudly informing him that Liz Wicker-sham had won the Miss Georgia beauty contest the very year Carter had been elected president. There was never any question that Wilson would go all out to promote the career of his friend and fund-raiser's attractive young daughter. Now, in Vegas, he was doing just that-orchestrating an introduction to a producer who was casting for a soap opera.
A few months earlier, a young hustler named Paul Brown had approached him about helping to develop a Dallas-type TV series based on the real political goings-on in the nation's capital. It wasn't long before Brown had convinced Wilson to invest most of his savings-$29,000 and to sign on as the show's consultant. The reason for the Las Vegas weekend was to meet a big-time Hollywood producer who, Brown claimed, was eager to back the project.
It was a giddy moment for Wilson and Liz as they sat in the Fantasy Suite talking about a deal that was all but iced. Brown had already persuaded Caesars to comp the congressman's stay, and now he was making Charlie and Liz feel like they were the toasts of the town. He had brought up some pretty showgirls, and before long the whole party was acting as if they were part of a big-time Hollywood mogul's entourage, knocking back champagne as they congratulated one another on the deal that was about to be signed and the role that Liz was about to land.
Two years later, teams of investigators and federal prosecutors would spend weeks trying to reconstruct exactly what the congressman did that night after Paul Brown and the other hangers-on left the Fantasy Suite. It almost landed Wilson in jail. And given the very high wire he later had to walk to avoid indictment, it's quite astonishing to hear the way he cheerfully describes those moments in the hot tub that the investigators were never quite able to document. No matter how much hellish trouble it later caused him, the congressman leaves the unmistakable impression that he relished every single moment of his outrageous escapade.
"It was an enormous Jacuzzi," he recalled. "I was in a robe at first because, after all, I was a congressman. And then everyone disappeared except for two beautiful, long-legged showgirls with high heels. They were a bit drunk and flirtatious and they walked right into the water with their high heels on. . . . The girls had cocaine and the music was loud-Sinatra, 'My Kind of Town.' We all mellowed out, saying outrageous things to each other. It was total happiness. And both of them had ten long, red fingernails with an endless supply of beautiful white powder. It was just tremendous fun-better than anything you've ever seen in the movies."
As Wilson later framed the episode that almost brought him down, "the Feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale-and I ain't telling."
Other middle-aged men have brought young women to the Fantasy Suite for activities not unlike Wilson's. But ordinarily there is something a bit desperate and tawdry about such aging pleasure seekers. It's unlikely that any of them would be able to talk about their debauchery in such a way that it would sound almost fresh and innocent. Charlie Wilson, however, had a genius for getting people to judge him not as a middle-aged scoundrel but instead as if he were a good-hearted adolescent, guilty of little more than youthful excess.
This survival skill permitted him to routinely do things that no one else in Congress could have gotten away with. One of the first to marvel at this unique capacity to openly flaunt the rules was the young Diane Sawyer, who met Wilson in 1980 when she was just beginning her career as a network correspondent. "He was just untamed," she recalled, "tall and gangly and wild-like a kid before they discovered Ritalin. He had this ungoverned enthusiasm, and it extended to women and the world."
The congressman was like no one Sawyer had met in Washington. He was simply outrageous. Sawyer recalled the experience of driving with Charlie in his big old Continental on one of their few dinner dates: "Going down Connecticut Avenue with him, I felt as if we could have been driving into any American Graffiti hamburger place."
When Wilson was first elected to Congress, he'd persuaded a distinguished college professor, Charles Simpson, to leave academia and sign on as his administrative assistant. Simpson says Wilson was the brightest person he's ever worked with: "He had an uncanny ability to take a complex issue, break it down, get all the bullshit out, and deliver the heart of it. There's no question he could have been anything he wanted to be. His goal was to become secretary of defense. Certainly he intended to run for the Senate."
But Simpson gradually came to believe that his boss had a fatal flaw. That failing was perfectly summed up in a fitness report written by Wilson's commanding officer in the navy in the late 1950s: "Charlie Wilson is the best officer who ever served under me at sea and undoubtedly the worst in port."
There was little question in Simpson's mind in those days that his boss had a drinking problem. As with many alcoholics, it was not immediately noticeable; Wilson had an uncanny ability to consume enormous quantities of Scotch and seem unaffected. Also, he was a happy drunk who told wonderful stories and made everyone laugh. On the occasions when drinking would get to him, Simpson says, "Wilson would simply lie down on the floor for an hour, wake up, and act as if he had just had twelve hours of sleep. It was the most unreal thing I'd ever seen. He'd do this at his own parties-just sleep for an hour with everything going on around him, then get up and start again."
Most of the 435 members of Congress lead surprisingly anonymous lives in Washington. They are, of course, celebrities of sorts in their own districts, but the reality of life in the capital is that all but a few will leave Washington without much of anyone knowing they had been there. Wilson, in contrast, had begun to attract a great deal of media attention by the early 1980s, albeit the kind that any other politician would have considered the kiss of death. The gossip columnists called him "Good-Time Charlie," and they had a good time themselves describing the parade of beauty queens he escorted to White House receptions and fancy embassy parties. One Texas newspaper called him "the biggest playboy in Congress." The Washington Post featured a picture of Wilson and House Majority Leader Jim Wright saddled up on white horses, riding down Pennsylvania Avenue to a nightclub Wilson had just invested in. The Dallas Morning News observed that there were more congressmen on the floor of Wilson's disco, Élan ("a club for the dashing" was its motto), than you were ever likely to find on the floors of Congress. When challenged about his lifestyle, Wilson replied good-naturedly, "Why should I go around looking like a constipated hound dog? I'm having the time of my life."
In truth, at age forty-seven, in his fourth term in office, Charlie Wilson was completely lost. Public officials are forever doing stupid things, but they don't step into hot tubs with naked women and cocaine unless they are driven to play Russian roulette with their careers. And it was hard not to conclude that this recently divorced congressman was a man in free fall, programmed for disaster.
Wilson himself would later say, "I was caught up in the longest midlife crisis in history. I wasn't hurting anybody, but I sure was aimless." If Charlie Wilson's midlife crisis had thrown him off course, it was nothing compared to the crisis America was going through. The night Wilson checked into Caesars Palace, Ted Koppel had opened his Nightline broadcast with a disturbing refrain: "Good evening. Tonight is the two hundred and thirty-seventh night of captivity for the hostages in Tehran." The United States, with its $200 billion annual defense budget, couldn't even force a taunting Third World nation to turn over fifty hostages. And then, when it finally screwed up its courage to mount a rescue mission, the whole world watched the humiliating spectacle of Desert One, as a U.S. helicopter pilot lost his vision in a blinding dust cloud and rammed into a parked plane, leaving eight soldiers dead and the rescue mission aborted.
Over and over again it was said that "Vietnam syndrome" had infected the spirit of America. And by the summer of 1980 a growing number of conservatives, led by Ronald Reagan, had begun to warn that the Soviet Union might have achieved nuclear superiority, that a "window of opportunity" had been opened in which the Soviets could launch and win a nuclear war. Other voices added to the unease, claiming that the KGB had infiltrated most Western intelligence services and that they were mounting devastatingly effective "disinformation" campaigns, which were blinding America to the danger it faced.
To the president at the time, Jimmy Carter, this kind of extreme worst-case thinking had created what he called "America's paranoid fear of Communism." A born-again Christian, a onetime peanut farmer and former governor of Georgia, Carter had almost no experience in foreign affairs when he ran for president, but he had won over an American public still traumatized by Vietnam and Watergate. The intelligence scandals in the late 1970s had only reinforced the widespread suspicion that the CIA was out of control-a virtual government within the government. Vowing "never to lie" to the American public and to introduce a new morality in Washington, Carter had all but promised an end to the CIA's dirty tricks.
Once in office, President Carter moved to discipline the Agency, coming close to suggesting that it was time to stop conducting covert operations altogether.
Excerpted from Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile Copyright © 2003 by George Crile
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted July 31, 2006
I would suggest reading 'Oliver North - Under Fire' before reading this to get a view of both sides of government. Charlie Wilson is the epitome of what scares me about politicians. I'd consider Charlie Wilson as more of a 'Sell-Out' than a hero for what he did in Afghanistan. Crile displays Charlie as this person who would go to no lengths to protect America. To me, I can't imagine any womanizing coke-head caring about anything but their own needs. Charlie goes off and defends Pakistan's right to build an Islamic bomb, which makes me view Oliver North as a saint compared to Charlie. Even though Oliver North sold arms to Iran in exchange to free the hostages and use the profits to send to Nicaragua, Charlie sold weapons, gave billions of dollars, and trained are eventual enemy. It's nice to know that coke-heads can run this country. It makes me think about the high gas prices and products and why they came about. It amazed me on how Israel played such a neutral position by providing Iran with weapons, by making special weapons for the Afghans, and by becoming involved in American politics so deeply. Israel makes me think that they care more about themselves than anyone else in the world even disregarding their own allies. There is no way that I can believe that the money to fund this Afghan program was handled properly. Charlies deep pashion for the Afghans were probably caused because of the money he was stealing from the program. The US was probably funding the Islamic bomb with this money as well. The only thing I can say bad about this book is how Crile would introduce each charcter in the same format. You will know what I'm talking about when you read the book. Also, I guess Tom Hanks is supposed to play Charile Wilson in the movie, which I find hard to believe because of Charlie's coke problem and also being 6'4 wher Hanks is only 5'10. Every paranoid idea that I ever thought about this government comes to reality in Crile's book, 'Charlie Wilson's War'.
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Posted August 7, 2003
This book contains an incredible story of Hedinism, Obsession, Politics, War, Good vs. Evil, and Intrigue. However, I have to wonder if the 'History' may be a bit dubious or slanted. The Author idolizes Congressman Charlie Wilson and takes effort to draw the reader into his congregation of Wilson Worshipers. But, from this 'tale', it is hard to decide if Wilson should be tried and shot, or should he be given the greatest of American and Afghan honors. Maybe, we should do both! Or, maybe he should be dismissed as an exaggerator and egotist. Either way, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading History and Historical Fiction. But, they should all need to keep in mind that this 'Story' may be just that, a story. I think the real fun of this book though will be in the years to come. As we watch the unfolding of the 'rest of the story' as declassification and 'deathbed testimony' reveals the Truths and Consequenses of this 'One-Man War'.
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Posted March 6, 2005
Fantastic, a must read. While reading this book I laughed out loud on numerous occasions. However, not only funny, this book is an insightful look into Middle East politics. Absolutely wonderful.
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Posted October 11, 2004
Crile, a producer for the US news programme `60 Minutes¿, has written a hymn of praise for the CIA and its terrorist operation in Afghanistan. He also idolises Congressman Charlie Wilson, a good ol¿ Texan, a coke-snorting, whisky-guzzling, whoring, arms-dealing, freeloading, hit-and-run drunk-driver, who constantly broke US laws to arrange aid for the terrorist cause. Crile ignores the fact that the US intervened first in Afghanistan, supporting reactionary terrorists trying to overthrow the progressive government: on 3 July 1979, President Carter signed a secret directive authorising covert aid to the mujehadin. The CIA promoted drug trafficking to raise funds for them. The British, French and Israeli governments all sold arms to them. Only in December 1979, five months after the US intervention, did Soviet troops enter Afghanistan, at the Afghan government¿s request, to defend the people against the terrorist onslaught. The CIA, assisted by Thatcher, spent $1 billion a year arming and training more than 300,000 Islamic mercenaries drawn from around the world to fight against Afghani national liberation. Crile tells us that MI6 did much of the CIA¿s dirty work, `murder, assassination, and indiscriminate bombings¿. It was the CIA¿s biggest operation, far bigger than their terrorist Contra operation in Nicaragua, indeed the biggest secret war ever. The CIA-organised Contras targeted schools, clinics and hospitals: so did the mujehadin, and more so. The Contras ¿raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children¿ and ¿groups of civilians, including women and children, were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded¿, as the CIA told a Congressional Intelligence Committee. So did the mujehadin, and more so. The CIA¿s special favourite was the repellent criminal and fascist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was ¿responsible for the practice of throwing acid in the faces of Afghan women who failed to cover themselves properly¿. In the end, Gorbachev withdrew the Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and the mujehadin proceeded to wreck Afghanistan and attack their sponsor the USA. Crile claims that the withdrawal destroyed the Soviet Union. Not so; as Castro said, ¿Imperialism could not have destroyed the Soviet Union if the Soviets had not destroyed it first.¿
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Posted March 17, 2015
Posted June 29, 2014
You don’t have to read between the lines to see how Charlie & and his friends conducted an undeclared war against the Cold War Soviet Union in Afghanistan. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend…” It worked both ways. Congress did not make a declaration of war to use “Afghan Mujahedeen” “freedom fighters to drive the infidel Soviets out; but they DID secretly fund it. We and Saudi Arabia, and Israel (to a degree) provided the funds, high technology weapons and training of the Mujahedeen warriors to focus on the Soviet invaders, rather than fight each other. Now that the Soviet Evil Empire is gone, years later, they have the wherewithal to destroy a new group of infidels: us-- the USA. And since we gave them everything they needed to attack us, they chose us rather than their thousands-of-years of self-slaughtering. All they needed was a new Superpower to attack. And now, we are “The enemy…” instead of their friend. All signs seem to point to the Russians as financing today’s Islamic Fundamentalists against us. Allahu Akbar!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2012
Posted January 18, 2012
A must read for everyone who lives in America. Excellent author, exposing truth on our spending of tax dollars. Very good book. I shudder at all of the other potential pet projects that the US is funding. All in all, I heartily recommend the book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 27, 2011
Posted November 27, 2011
Posted December 31, 2007
Incredible story about these two fascinating characters, Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos, and their cohort Joanne Herring, and an excellent lesson in the covert nature of Congressional funding. It should urge us all to pay more attention. However, I recommend the book more for the story than for the writing. It needed a much stronger editorial hand. The endless passages about the nobliltiy of the fight and the enduring love and affection the characters felt for each other was overwrought. Maybe the author felt the need to exhaustively defend the participants in the shadow of 9/11, but it was tiring and unnecessary. I also found a great deal of historical context deficient, with too much assumed about knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair, the reasons for the Soviet invasion, and Pakistan's leader and the imposition of martial law, just to name a few. But it made me thirst for more information about Charlie Wilson and his band of players and in that, it is a success.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 14, 2003
Charlie Wilson was the hero with clay feet as many of our hero's are. We often overlook their flaws or their flaws weren't reported in the years prior to the intense scrutinization of the media. The politics of this war are amazing also. The infighting between the CIA, Pentagon & Congress. The other unsung heroes, Gust Avrakotos & Mike Vickers, are also fascinating characters in their own right. Plus some of the most interesting parts of the story come after the Soviet withdrawal & the battle of afghanistan & how it relates to the war on terror. The legacy of which continues to this day. This book will help people understand what's going on in afghanistan today. Although there does need to be a follow up to fill in the gap.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 18, 2003
Posted August 8, 2003
Do not drop your jaw - Read the book again. Joanne WAS awarded Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam the highest civil honor of Pakistan by Zia - This is a good read. Not recommended for Zia's followers though.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 2, 2003
I am originally from Pakistan and that's why I looked forward to reading this book since I witnessed the effects of Afghan war in my country. There is really an acute shortage of material on this topic and when I heard about this book, I couldn't wait to get it. It started off amazing. Although Mr. Crile has not specifically stated his sources, I generally trusted what he was saying (he being a journalist, sources being attached to sensitive organizations and what not) but all my excitement deflated when I reached page 60 something where Mr. Crile describes the relations of Joanne Herring and General Zia. He wrote that Joanne was called 'sir' in Pakistan. Give me a break. Maybe some peon in some office may have called her 'sir' but that doesn't qualify as a fact worth quoting. The bigger and more outrageous claim was just a few lines down on the same page where Mr. Crile says that Joanne Herring was given the highest honor that Pakistani Government can give and that is the title of 'Quid-e-Azam' translated as 'The Great Leader'. I dropped first my jaw and then the book when I read that. It's ridiculous. It's so painfully obvious to me that Mr. Crile's sources were exaggerating and Mr. Crile didn't do any effort to corroborate the information. Had he¿d done that, he would have come to known that the title of 'Quid-e-Azam' is reserved for the founder of Pakistan, M. A. Jinnah and it's not conferred upon anyone else by Pakistan Government. It¿s like saying that US president honored someone with the title of 'The Founding Father'. As I said, it's ridiculous. I could give him the benefit of doubt if there was an honor which sounded like 'Quid-e-Azam'. There isn't. They are all like 'Nishan-e-Imtiaz', 'Sitara-e-Imtiaz' etc. and none of their meanings come anywhere close to 'The Great Leader'. Its not that I think that Mr. Crile is lying. He just heard something and quoted it in a 'history' book. Historians used to be a bit more cautious in recording facts. Had he¿d tried to verify that from any (and I mean ANY, it's that common knowledge) Pakistani, he/she would have told him that that 'fact' can not possibly be true. That was it for me. The book's credibility was GONE. I tried to go beyond that and read some 100 pages more but now that I knew for sure that Mr. Crile's sources had passed him blown up info and he hadn't verified it, the only way I could read it anymore was to consider it a work of fiction but then, its not written very well for a fictional book. I have a lot more to say about how Mr. Cile's sources have described Zia and some other things but I won't. It¿s useless.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2003
I could not put this book down. I enjoy military history and political intrigue as well as foreign relations. This had it all. The 15 years of research here really shows through with very detailed behind the scenes insights. I found myself really loving and hating the characters involved, from the title character, Charlie Wilson, to Muhjadin themselves. I learned a great deal about the inner workings of our government, for better or worse. The ups and downs of the characters in this story are sometimes hard to take as you keep hoping they fix their lives, but alas the book shows hereos come with chinks in the armor. The recent events in the Middle East make this story all the more relevant and amazing. The moral of the story is that every action has a reaction and if you focus on too short of a horizon you can create more havoc than you eliminate. The only complaint is that the book gives short coverage to the lack of follow up after the Red Army leaves Afghanastan, which is the root cause of many problems today. Read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 25, 2003
An extraordinary war story with a brainy, gorgeous woman as one of the main characters. Joanne Herring, a Houston socialite, paved the way for Charlie,and he rode into Afghanistan on her coattail. Every woman should be proud of this outstanding heroine.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 28, 2003
Who would have know that the Democrats had their private war going on while bashing President Reagan over the Contra war in Nicaragua. The American news media was not after this story compared to the one in Central America. The reader gets the insider view of national politics in Washington as we follow Rep. Wilson's efforts to fund the war. In Congress it was all about power and money. Ideals seem to have come second. Wilson wanted revenge to send Russian boys home in body bags as the USSR did to the USA with Vietnam. Congressman Wilson's passion and commitment comes through loud and clear. Along with Wilson's self-destructive nature that almost cost him elective office. Great story, hard to put the book down. The covert effort to defeat the USSR made for some strange alliances in the Middle East. The success in this covert effort created some of the conditions for today's war on terror.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 24, 2003
This was not only an interesting read, it was also fun. It gives you insight into the workings of the government that are distrubing to say the least. The book made me wonder what kind of 'back door' politics are going on now that we will not know about for another 20 years. This is the type of book that is hard to put down once you start reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 28, 2003
'Charlie Wilson's War' is the unbelievable yet true story of the covert CIA operation to support the Afghan rebels who so courageously resisted Soviet occupation in the 1980's. It is also the story of two extraordinary men, Congressman Charles Wilson and CIA operative Gust Avrokotos, whose guile, determination, and utter disregard for the rules made this quixotic undertaking a reality. This book is about impossible personalities prevailing against impossible odds to defeat an impossible foe. It is also impossible to put down. The prose is quick and engaging. George Crile and his crack team drop you immediately into the action, creating a close bond with the book's main protagonists. However, Wilson and Avrokotos are not allowed to completely overshadow the action. Crile brings his expert eye to this historic tale, forged after almost two decades of service as an executive producer at 'Sixty Minutes'. The result is an easy to follow, orderly read- despite the utter chaos of the region's history, politics, and religious, ethnic, and territorial turmoil. What makes this book all the more fascinating is the direct connections Crile ties to our present day difficulties with Afghanistan and the larger Islamic world, not to mention the final days of the Soviet empire. For the first time since 9/11, one source ties together the complicated web of covert operations, David and Goliath type odds, and the final missed opportunities into a coherent story. A story that is an object lesson into our current relationships in the Middle East. 'Charlie Wilson's War' is proof once again that truth is far stranger than fiction, for throughout this story you will be struck time and time again by the sheer magnitude of the undertaking, the force of the personalities, and the effect they have on the entire world. This book caries my highest recommendation. Whether you like fiction or non fiction, history, spy novels, or fantasy, this saga has something for every reader. Go buy this book, and buy it for a friend!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.