It was not the Jews
whose racial weakness
infected the world,
it was the British.
The Jews in Egypt
were more or less
like everyone else:
some rich, some poor,
some good, some bad.
But the British
were uniformly arrogant,
greedy and vicious.
The Key Characters:
Alexander Wolff, the German spy.
William Vandam, General staff intelligence.
Elene Fontana, the courtesan of Egyptian Jewish origins.
Rommel, the German officer Wolff reports to.
Sonja,the exotic belly dancer.
Abdullah, the thief.
The best and worst part of this spy thriller is that the reader tends to root for the bad guy Wolff, the German spy. He is likable, his ability to squirm out of trouble that arrives at his doorstep at regular intervals is impressive. One feels sorry for him; his humane side that exhibits alternating fear, panic and calm in dire situations, reminds us that he is after all another human trying hard to stay strong, physically and mentally to serve his country. This is so well articulated that one cannot help feeling for his predicaments. It is useful to keep reminding oneself that he works for the Nazi side, reporting to Hitler. For a spy who is vigilant with his expertise, Wolff keeps getting almost caught by the authorities at regular intervals.
The cat-and-mouse game between Wolff and Vandam racing against time to manipulate the war and secure victory for their respective countries forms crux of the novel.
A motorbike chase where Vandam almost catches Wolff, is no less than a Hollywood thriller sequence. Vandam’s patience and expertise in cracking the code that is crucial to the outcome of the wars is riveting.
The other thrilling scene is the brilliant orchestrating of the theft of the briefcase containing secrets of the war plans of the British. Wolff working with Abdullah the thief, in perfect harmony despite the complete lack of trust or loyalty between them is absolutely enchanting.
Sonja is a fascinating character, with a dense history to match her beliefs, choice of loyalties and more interestingly, her quirky sexual fantasies. Her uninhibited dancing is a treat to experience, while her fantasies provide Wolff with much needed action in the bedroom.
Elene is rather boring until she proves her mettle, midway through the story. The way she overcomes her fears to risk her life for her country is commendable.
Each relationship between the characters is complicated and completely unpredictable, in a brilliant contribution to the suspense. The novel however has parts that are slow and boring, especially when the larger suspense looms in the background of the story.
It is somewhat necessary to show the reader how ruthless Wolff is, especially his utter lack of feeling towards Sonya or his ruthless treatment of Vandam’s little boy, perhaps because to soften the blow for the reader, who must ultimately accept that the villain has to meet with failure at the end.
Each character has strong reasons for the direction of their loyalties. The multiple plot twists are superbly infused in accordance with each character’s selfish motives, however minor the character may be.
Overall, a thrilling journey for readers who enjoy travelling over deserts, across cities with the characters to the period of WW2 in war ravaged Cairo.
Men generally treated her conversation like background music in a cocktail bar, pleasant enough but largely meaningless noise.
There was a certain amount of information Wolff could get by just walking around the city.
There was no artifice in her dancing, not any more, she was doing it for herself.
They did not understand. Nobody knew what it was for her, nobody knew what she went through every time she danced.
Hitler had the right idea but the wrong target, she believed. It was not the Jews whose racial weakness infected the world, it was the British. The Jews in Egypt were more or less like everyone else: some rich, some poor, some good, some bad. But the British were uniformly arrogant, greedy and vicious.
Her father made the family sit shiva for her. What is Shiva? He asked. “Mourning.”
For a while she had thought he might be different from all the rest, but she had been wrong. And she thought, ‘why do I mind so much?’
He could feel the fear pumping desperate strength into his arms.
Wolff felt as if the hunting pack had formed a circle around him, so that every way he ran, he came up against one of them, and the circle grew tighter every day.
Vandam thought about Sonja. He wondered from what source she had been drawing the strength to defy him…..then in the end she had allowed herself to explode, but even then she had used her fury not been controlled by it….not anger, not fear. It had been hatred. And her hatred had given her strength.
You see, this is the way I win. I mean, win everything…the game of life, so to speak. I am detached. I do care, but I refuse to do pointless things, symbolic gestures, empty fits of rage. Either we love each other or we don’t, and all the flowers in the world won’t make any difference.
None of them would help her…and women like camels, had to be beaten from time to time. Useless, impotent rage boiled within her.