I think I badly need a vacation. We all do, but one's not in the offing any time soon, so I'm taking my pleasure where I can. Diving back into Anthony Burgess' novels was one, although it's depressing to find that one I really wanted to reread -- A Tremor of Intent -- won't be back in print until July.
I remember that Burgess wrote a slim little volume, 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939, in which he offered capsule reviews of (as the title suggested) the 99 best novels, in his opinion, in a roughly 45 year span (the book came out in the early to mid-1980s, if I recall correctly; I have a copy of it lying around somewhere -- probably still buried in the basement). One of the things I noted when I read it all those years ago (I haven't looked at it since) is that Burgess seemed to have a propensity for picking books like books he had written. He had a few dystopias there to match his own dystopia (The Wanting Seed), and one spy novel as well: Ian Fleming's work Goldfinger.
Now, ever since I was all of six years old, I've been a huge fan of the James Bond films. I've seen them all, without fail, and my favorite, From Russia With Love, I've probably seen twenty times. Sean Connery, of course, is my favorite Bond; I thought Piercce Brosnan was a serviceable Bond, but let's face it -- Connery created a cultural icon, imitated but never surpassed. I've always felt a little bit of pity for poor Roger Moore, by the way, who had the bad fortune to play Bond in the '70s, and stuck with the role far too long.
Oddly enough, despite (or perhaps because of) my love for the cinematic Bond, I never bothered to read much of Ian Fleming. My one experience with Fleming was disappointing; I read The Spy Who Loved Me, and didn't particularly care for it. Yesterday, I decided to take Burgess' advice, and picked up Goldfinger. It doesn't disappoint..
One of the 99 best English novels? Even with the time restrictions, I'm not sure I'd say so, but it's taut and economical and a gripping read. I'm already 150 pages into it, and am enjoying it immensely. In Fleming's novel, Goldfinger is suspected of being the paymaster of Smersh -- Smiert Spionen, death to all spies, the Soviet counterintelligence operation that in reality assassinated quite a few people who fought against communist tyranny, whether openly or covertly. There's a level of desperation about the character of James Bond that makes the novel enjoyable -- he's far more human in the book than he is on the screen. In its own small way, the book is a reminder of what's at stake when freedom and tyranny clash -- the Cold War, the War on Terror -- as this piece makes relatively clear:
Terrorism is driven by ideology and fueled by a poisonous interpretation of religion. It's much more important to recognize that radical Islam -- terrorist Islam -- is being spread by a propaganda line we should well remember.
Those who preach it -- whether it's the Saudi Wahabbism, the Iranian edition, or one of the others -- insist that terrorist Islam will succeed inevitably, and its seizure of power in any nation is irreversible. It is, they say, the will of God. More than thirty years ago, a guy named Leonid Brezhnev said the same thing about communism, and the Clarkes of that era bought it. At least until Lech Walesa and some very brave Poles proved the Brezhnev Doctrine, as it became known, to be utterly false. By overthrowing communism and establishing democracy, Walesa and his people drove a stake through the heart of communism. If there is a central strategy in our war against terror, it must be this: those who propagandize the inevitability and irreversibility of radical Islam must be proven wrong just as the Brezhnevites of the 1970s were, and in the same way.
If we are to succeed in the long-term war against Islamic terror, we must succeed in the same way, and to the same degree that the Poles did.
Not as glamorous as an Aston Martin DB5 with an ejector seat, but proving the Islamists wrong seems a worthwhile project -- intellectually as well as militarily.Posted by Ideofact at March 28, 2004 11:53 PM