A historical thriller about the turbulent politics of the Middle East and the oil industry.
As the war between Iraq and Iran finally comes to a close in the late 1980s, the region braces itself for a seismic shift of the old order. Iran is increasingly isolated, and a victorious Iraq is brokering a nonaggression pact with Saudi Arabia—a maneuver meant to contain whatever threat Iraq might pose to the OPEC oil cartel. Meanwhile, a secret supranational group that calls itself “The Symposium” works behind the scenes to protect the Persian Gulf area from political excesses and attempts to orchestrate the overthrow of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. However, Israeli intelligence uncovers their existence, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein soon funnels that information to Fahd. At the heart of the chaos is Jim Blackburn, an American energy consultant with strong ties to the intelligence community, as his father worked for the CIA. He tries to disentangle the skein of Middle Eastern political alliances for his clients, but he realizes that he’s stumbled onto information of geopolitical significance when The Symposium takes him into their confidence. The global situation is further complicated when a consortia of public and private Japanese interests attempts to assert itself within the international oil industry. Author Zanoyan (The Doves of Ohanavank, 2014, etc.) was once a global energy consultant, like his protagonist, and his deep knowledge of the sector’s economics and Middle Eastern politics is breathtaking. For example, readers learn, through Jim’s gimlet-eyed wisdom, that any economic contest over petroleum is always much more that it seems: “It is a game to gain dominance over each other,” says Jim at one point. “It is a game to become economically more powerful—more powerful than not only our adversaries, but also our allies.” But although the story is relentlessly paced and brimming with historical insight, it’s also exasperatingly complex, and some readers will find the long dialogue exchanges about economic theory to be exhausting. Zanoyan does provide some respite with Jim’s romantic exploits, though, which are impressive and artfully chronicled. Overall, this will undoubtedly be a feast for anyone who’s hungry for knowledge about the Middle East, even though it sometimes feels less like a novel than it does an academic primer.
An exceptionally erudite, if sometimes textbooklike, portrait of a key point in a region’s history.