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Carefully structured for escalating what-happens-next involvement, this tells of the trivial, almost distant personal triangle that finally triggers World War III. The novel begins in a sterile hospital room (in a US Navy submarine, we later discover), with a psychiatrist attempting to draw from injured, amnesiac, 16-year-old Cindy the recollection of a recent trauma. Gradually, and in neat chronological order, the story comes out: how she leaves her Swiss boarding school to spend Christmas, 1988, with her parents in Saudi Arabia, where her father is US ambassador; how Salim, a Saudi translator for the embassy, and Kim, the son of the American defense attache, become prickly rivals for her quite chaste attention; how Saudi revolutionaries (Salim among them) take the embassy community hostage and eventually execute Kim's father in retaliation for the killing of a guard; and how Cindy, when the crazed Kim lunges at Salim at the moment of a negotiated rescue, accidentally pulls the trigger that leads to general slaughter in the embassy and finally to an American nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. That big wars have ignoble beginnings is Fonuan's point, and his dismay over humankind's dangerous macho brinkmanship is affecting. However, the one-dimensional stereotypes of his characters and the predictable scenarios of his imagined future make for another sort of disproportion that is harder to reconcile with the awesome consequences. Still, as an adolescent version of the political thriller, the story has suspense and texture, though it's never as chilling as Cormier's I Am the Cheese (which the psychiatrist framework vaguely recalls) or as intense as Dickinson's hostage story The Seventh Raven.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1982
Publisher: Scribners