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What would make a son kill his father in cold blood? That's the question prolific novelist Just, drawing on his journalist's understanding of international politics, poses in this timely fiction of a world forced to negotiate between diplomacy and terrorism. Just also meditates here on E.M. Forster's notion that loyalty to friend or family is more courageous than loyalty to one's country. For it's William North's devotion to his son that leads to the fatal denouement of this compelling, if somewhat predictable, intrigue. With a Senate investigation warming up, Ambassador North reviews his more or less uneventful career as a diplomat--a career begun in the glory days of JFK--in order to explain how his son, Bill, Jr., a brilliant though alienated prepster, eventually became one of Western Europe's preeminent terrorists. This Columbia grad turned mad bomber explains himself in a prologue that reveals, under the extremist cant, a skewered vision of the family politic as well. As the rest of the novel confirms, Bill, Jr., blames his father for all that's unjust in the world, from the expulsion of his black friend at boarding school to the unequal treatment of the black servants during his father's posting in Africa. When Bill, Jr.'s, German girlfriend and co-conspirator, Gert--the withdrawn, possibly retarded, daughter of a prominent journalist--commits parricide, it demonstrates the couple's political nihilism--her dad's a spy for the other side, a party man and, worse, another neglectful father. While coldblooded North fils plots his act of revenge, his trustful parents decide to play out this familial struggle on their own. Eluding interested governments turns out to be a tragic mistake. Terrorism as generational conflict may be a bit reductive, but Just's fluid prose and nuanced characterization save this from mere psychodrama.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1987
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin