Everything for Your Home's
Beauty, Comfort & Convenience 384-2123
704 Jamestown St, Columbia
Dr. Ronald P. Rogers
Support for your body's natural healing capabilities
Click here for details
Columbia Walmart Supercenter
Open 24 Hours
Click here for information
Real Estate & Auction Co.
Duo County Telecom
Now Available Through
Your Cable Service!
GUN & PAWN
What's Going On
Info about the
Janice Holt Giles
and Henry Giles Society
Columbia Gas Dept.
GAS LEAK or GAS SMELL
24 hrs/ 365 days
270-384-2006 or 9-1-1
Call before you dig
Directory of Churches
phone numbers and more
for churches in Adair County
Tom Chaney: No. 278, Understanding the Enemy
Of Writers and Their Books. No. 278, 19 December 2010Understanding the Enemy a review of "The Faithful Spy," by Alex Berenson
The next earlier Tom Chaney essay, Images of Mammoth Cave
By Tom Chaney
Email: Tom Chaney firstname.lastname@example.org
Understanding the Enemy
When I was a small boy I remember reprimands for whispering in church. When I shifted to note-passing I got caught at that. I am caught less often in church these days, but since I started writing this column I tend to get books either passed to me during the sermon or suggested for reading.
I have discovered that it is not polite to begin reading the book before the benediction even if it was tendered as a sort of adult pacifier.
This week's book came that way -- surreptitiously passed over the pew.
It has lain around long enough for the owner to wonder whether it ever will be returned. 'Tis the first novel from the pen of New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, The Faithful Spy, Jove of Random House 2008.
John Wells is the only American to successfully go undercover in al Qaeda. His employers, the CIA no longer trust him because he has done his job so well that he has long been out of touch. His minder at Langley, Jennifer Exley, still trusts him but does not know what to expect when he is sent back to America by the al Qaeda mastermind, Omar Khadri, who spearheads attacks on America.
Wells has become a Muslim during his stay with al Qaeda, prompted in part by the fact that his grandmother had been Muslim.
In the end only Wells and Exley are able to stop a deadly terrorist attack on America -- even as the CIA remains skeptical and untrusting.
The Faithful Spy is a splendid first novel. Berenson makes a worthy successor to the likes of John le Carre and Jack Higgins. Its tight plot compliments the fact that the novel deals with some compelling current issues.
I have been alarmed at the tendency to paint the entire Muslim world with the same brush as was done with the German enemy during World War I and with the Japanese as well as Germans in the Second World War. How tempting to demonize rather than understand those whom we find ourselves pitted against. And how unproductive.
Berenson observes in an interview that the current conflict differs from the cold war in that during the cold war both sides were playing by roughly the same rules and were recognizable to each other. "Don't kill civilians; don't target the other side's agents. Do not push too hard. Neither side wanted a nuclear holocaust. The game was chess match, complex and difficult but controlled."
"Now we're confronting an enemy that doesn't just want to win the game. It wants to tear up the board."
Consequently sympathy with the other side is difficult. "But as a novelist you have to make both sides real to the reader. The bad guys can't just be cardboard cutouts."
As a reporter for The New York Times Berenson could not but be tethered to the facts. As a novelist one can avoid the silence necessary when the facts are unavailable. "I wanted to see how it would feel to build a world where for once I had all the facts, and I knew what everyone was thinking.
"They lie to each other all the time, my characters. Sometimes they even lie to themselves. But they always tell me the truth."
And therein rests the heavy responsibility of the novelist -- to communicate that truth to readers when a lie seems more palatable.
It is hard in these days when bombs are thrown, when airplanes become missiles killing thousands, to realize that terrorists are "real people. They all have reasons that they've joined Qaeda; they aren't idiots or psychopaths."
To love our enemies may be too much to ask. But Berenson helps us to understand them, and in the process tells a cracking good tale.
Several more John Wells novels have followed since The Faithful Spy. I'm eager to follow along.
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
This story was posted on 2010-12-19 03:21:27
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.
To sponsor news and features on ColumbiaMagazine, please use our contact form.
More articles from topic Tom Chaney: Of Writers and Their Books:
Tom Chaney: No. 042, Images of Mammoth Cave
Tom Chaney. No. 277: Hart County cook books for gifts
Tom Chaney. No. 036: Welcome to Catfish Bend
Tom Chaney, A Cumberland Co., KY, Thanksgiving Story
Tom Chaney: No. 276. Literature and the plague
Tom Chaney: Think globally, act locally
Tom Chaney: CLOTEL, the first black novel
Tom Chaney: Doing History/Celebrating Feet of Clay
Tom Chaney: Friday night at the Strand
Tom Chaney. Review of Fall of the Giants, Ken Follett
View even more articles in topic Tom Chaney: Of Writers and Their Books
Click for Info
Bank of Columbia
If You're Thinking of Selling,
Let Us Do the Yelling
Principal Broker & Auctioneer
Burton Real Estate
& Auction Service
Call Us For Appraisals
Click for Listings
On This Site
or Click Here
Columbia in the Movies
from the archives of
Click for Stories
The Best of
Local Stories of
The Greatest Generation
Order Book or e-Book
See who's celebrating
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Special Events List
Find Great Stuff in
Antiques, Help Wanted,
Autos, Real Estate,
Legal Notices, More...
ColumbiaMagazine.com content is available as an RSS/XML feed for your RSS reader or other news aggregator.
Contact us: Columbia Magazine and columbiamagazine.com are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.