Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"The Doctor of Aleppo"

Dan Mayland is an author and professional geopolitical forecaster, helping nonprofit, private, and government organizations navigate a changing world. His Mark Sava spy series was informed by his experiences in the Caspian region and Middle East. Raised in New Jersey, Mayland now lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two children, in an old stone farmhouse he and his wife have restored.

Mayland applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Doctor of Aleppo, and reported the following:
Page 69 marks the beginning of a new chapter.

The year is 2012 and war in the Syrian city of Aleppo has just broken out. Rebel forces swarm neighborhoods, regime tanks roll through the streets, and fighter jets roar across the sky. But there are no front lines; it’s all chaos. Panic, jubilation, and gunfire abounds.

Against this backdrop, Hannah Johnson—a Syrian American woman—is trying to flee the city, but she’s stopped at a government checkpoint:
It was undeniably true, Hannah admitted to the army officer who questioned her, that she had been in the streets of Aleppo, in the middle of the night, on the very same night the rebels had launched their attack on the city. It was also true, she conceded, that she was one of only a handful of Americans who were still in Aleppo.

She didn’t deny it. Just as she didn’t deny that the Americans were probably using the CIA to secretly funnel arms to the rebels. But she very much did deny that she, personally, was doing any of the funneling, which is what they were accusing her of doing.
Does this page-69 excerpt give readers a decent sense of the whole work? I suppose, in the sense that the novel does focus intensely on both the history of the war for Aleppo and Hannah, who, along with the titular doctor, is a critical character throughout the book.

But I fear the passage could lead readers a bit astray in that, while I’ve written spy novels in the past—and this book does include a mystery element involving a Syrian intelligence officer—the CIA doesn’t play any real role in The Doctor of Aleppo. In fact, Booklist described the novel as, “A heroic and heartbreaking novel that concentrates on concepts of homeland, family, loss, and, above all, survival.”

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether the “heroic and heartbreaking” description is apt, but as for the “homeland, family, loss, and, above all, survival” part? Yeah, that’s exactly what the book is about. The CIA, not so much.
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--Marshal Zeringue