In this dual biography of two key figures in Middle Eastern history, Florence (Blood Libel) grounds the clash of Arab and Jewish nationalisms in the Ottoman Empire's collapse during WWI. T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia") was a flamboyant British officer and romantic partisan of a mythologized Arab people, who cobbled together an anti-Turkish revolt out of fractious Bedouin clans. Aaron Aaronsohn, a Palestinian Jew and an agronomist who pioneered the Zionist effort to make the desert bloom, organized a spy ring to feed intelligence on Ottoman defenses in Palestine to the British. There's suspense and pathos in Florence's saga of the war-torn Middle East-Aaronsohn's sister, also a spy, was tortured by the Turks and committed suicide-along with eye-glazing diplomatic wrangling as Aaronsohn and Lawrence try to influence British policy toward conquered Ottoman lands. Florence's portraits of his protagonists color his account of the competing political claims. His depiction of Aaronsohn makes Zionism the more authentic nation-building project, deeply rooted in the careful stewardship of a soil watered with Zionist blood, while Arab nationalism comes off as largely a shallow, alien conceit imported by an eccentric Englishman to Bedouin more interested in booty than independence. (See alsoAaronsohn's Maps: The Untold Story of the Man Who Might Have Created Peace in the Middle East,reviewed on p. 44.) Photos. (Aug. 20)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In which the British speak with forked tongues, and the Middle East is born. Historian/novelist Florence's (Blood Libel: The Damascus Affair of 1840, 2006, etc.) study of events in World War I operates from a ginned-up premise, since T. E. Lawrence-of Arabia, that is-and Aaron Aaronsohn and his wife Sarah, spies for England, never met or collaborated directly. "But," he insists, "the lives of Aaron and Sarah Aaronson and T. E. Lawrence did streak across the same desert sky like blazing meteors, unexpected, blinding in their brilliance, demanding attention." Even allowing for hyperbole, the defense is not convincing; Richard Meinertzhagen would have been the more appropriate pairing with the Aaronsohns, citizens of Ottoman-ruled Palestine who saw in the chaos of war and the Arab Revolt the chance to found a Jewish state. Aaron, scientifically trained and inclined, despised the Jewish population's dependence on "corrupt Turkish authorities to maintain law and order," but he was no bigot; his idea of that state seems to have included Arabs as well as Jews, all needing protection against "capitalistic exploitation." Naturally, he cast his lot with the British, who were notably represented in the larger region by Major Lawrence, who was busily attacking Turkish outposts in the deserts of Arabia. The British did not quite deliver what Aaronsohn hoped for. About Lawrence, thanks in part to David Lean's eponymous film, we know a great deal; Florence adds little to the mix. He does better with the little-known Aaronsohns, making a solid case for their importance in supplying critically important intelligence on Turkish defenses and the order of battle in Palestine-even though, as the martialnovice Aaronsohn grumbled to his diary, "It is humiliating for an observing man of science to be . . . ignorant of war questions which he has always scorned and which, nevertheless, are today of such overwhelming influence in everybody's life."Were they essential to the war effort? Not as much as Lawrence, but it's useful to hear about their accomplishments. A serviceable book, but not much more. Agent: Wendy Strothman/The Strothman Agency, LLC.