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To understand this book you need to know something about the Civil War in Lebanon. Once upon a time Beirut was called the Paris of the Middle East, a mini-paradise where Christians and Muslims lived relatively peacefully together in a cosmopolitan society. After the Jordanian Black September Civil War the PLO was expelled from Jordan and moved to Lebanon militarising, the Palestinian population. Nothing was the same after April 1975 when Lebanon entered 15 years of bitter Civil War which reduced the centre of the city to rubble almost like Stalingrad. Many parties were involved, Christian and Moslem, PLO and Palestinians, Israel and Syria, with allegiances changing by the day.
A multinational peacekeeping force from the US and France was shattered in October 1983 when huge car bombs planted by the Shiite group Hezbollah killed over 400 troops from both countries in their respective barracks. This act is the background to Mike Bond's chilling tale about a world of terror, bombing, torture and death which exposes human nature at its worst. Bond's prose is atmospheric and authentic because of his own experiences in war-torn Middle East. This is not a book for the faint hearted.
Bond introduces us to some amazing characters from all sides of the conflict. Neill is a war correspondent living in England who covers dangerous stories throughout the world. When he was at University in Beirut he had the love affair of his life with Layla, who is now the wife of Mohammed, a leader of Hezbollah who were responsible for the bombings of the barracks. He goes to Lebanon with the blessing of MI5 to find Layla and get her help with arranging an interview with Mohammed who MI5 believe may be willing to help stop the slaughter and destruction.
André's brother was killed when the French barracks were bombed and is on a revenge mission to Beirut to destroy Mohammed in an "eye for an eye" car bombing. When he is there he tragically meets the love of his life in a bomb shattered cellar.
Rosa is a Palestinian in her twenties who will do anything to promote her objective to destroy Israel. We meet her first smuggling a dozen grenades through the front line to the Hezbollah fighters hidden as a maternity bump in her dress. On the way she kills dozens of Christians by blowing up an arms depot in a cellar of a building they are occupying. Rosa is an enigmatic character, a cold blooded killer, and a liberated and promiscuous woman who uses sex as a weapon and a shield against the horrors of everyday life.
While Mohammed is a leader of Hezbollah and a strict follower of the Koran, his experiences make him contemplate ways to end the war and persuade others to follow him. Rosa and others try to show him that the only path forward is one of violence and power.
Bond left me with a host of memorable quotations about the war and peace - here are some:
"If God hadn't taught us to kill, what good would he be?"
"All wars are holy, because they are dammed. All wars are between Heaven and Hell. And Hell always wins."; and
"It takes a leader to make peace."
Mike Bond has written an unnerving tale right from the heart with great authenticity. The final chapters are especially chilling. The only good news is that Beirut is now basically at peace and the Green Line devastation is now being rebuilt. However, the warring parties are still around and the fundamental issues of Christian vs Muslim, Palestine vs Israel are still as unsolved as ever.