During my backpacking years back yonder, I found myself in Fatehpur Sikri on the subcontinent. A palatial city, the odd thing about it was that it was deserted save for vendors at the entrances. Answering my question in English, one vendor said that it had been built by the Moghul Emperor Akbar, who then abandoned it because it had no water supply.
Ruler Of The World by Alex Rutherford, 465 pp, 2011 Headline Review paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 350 baht.
Frankly, whenever I thought of the reason it annoyed me. Surely the ancient Greeks and Romans could have devised ways to bring in water. It was too opulent to be turned into a ghost city. Reading Ruler Of The World, third in the Empire Of The Moghul series, I got a more persuasive explanation from British author Alex Rutherford.
As he tells it, the grandson of Tamerlane was in the process of expanding his Indian empire (called Hindustan throughout) and opted to move to Lahore because it was closer to the action. Now in Pakistan, of course. The series of historical novels covers the rise and fall of the Moghuls.
Akbar, the third Moghul emperor, well deserved being called "The Great". He planned and led his men into battles, one state falling after another. Ruling a hundred million people, he shared the spoils of his conquests and the populace wished only that he would live forever. Alas, he couldn't.
There would be a successor, but who? Sons, grandsons, ministers, goaded on by ambitious and unscrupulous mothers and wives, tried to get his nod. Aware of their aspirations, praising each contender in turn, unable to make up his mind, he sets up contests among them, then declares them a draw.
Eldest son Salim appears to have the edge. Yet he seduces Akbar's favourite concubine, she is forced to take poison, he is sent into temporary exile. Another son drinks himself to death. A minister in the running is murdered. Jesuit missionaries unsuccessfully try to convert the court.
Not many battle scenes, most of the 465 pages are devoted to intrigues over the succession. The book's title Ruler Of The World is an exaggeration, to say the least. Rutherford succeeds in bringing us into the 17th century. Sadly, there's little excitement and no thrills.
Be that as it may, one billion Hindustanis may well enjoy this look into their past.
The Guardian by David Hosp, 370 pp, 2012 Macmillan paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 650 baht.
Total war or why bother
The US has the best ideals and greatest way of life in history, according to a major character in The Guardian, but also a major flaw. With the exception of WW II, it doesn't stay the course in its foreign wars. Against communism, its tens of thousands of dead notwithstanding, North Korea retained half the peninsula, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia went Red.
Against Arab terrorism, there is little doubt that when the GIs depart for home the Taliban and al Qaeda will return to power in Iraq and Afghanistan. America's halfhearted approach is counterproductive. Nothing less than total war will ensure victory and lasting peace. So believes Lawrence Ainsworth, one of the assistant directors of the CIA.
How he goes about provoking a holy war in order to eliminate the Islamic threat to the West is the focus of this thriller by Yank lawyer-turned-author David Hosp. It starts off with US military officers looting antiquities from the Middle East and mailing them to the States and sold there for a fortune.
The scam goes awry when low-ranking Charles Phalen in the Quartermaster Corps, handling the packaging, takes something for himself. The dagger, a holy relic, is missed and search for it from opposite ends of the world begins. Enter his sister Cianna, much more interesting by far, ex-army, her hot temper leading to a stretch in Leavenworth.
The murder of a Muslim tourist in the street brings CIA field agent Jack Saunders to South Boston. Which is where everybody congregates, not least the Taliban avenger Faisal. Bodies pile up. A bit much for the dagger Charlie, now discharged, is trying to fence.
Indeed the dagger was the lesser of two holy relics stolen from its long resting place in Kandahar. The other is the cloak of Mohammed, whoever possessing it believed invincible in battle. Ainsworth acquires it, passing it on to Faisal for the holy war the Americans are certain to win, blaming the other side for starting it.
This reviewer notices that torture is described in more and more books. A hand is chopped off here, intestines wrapped up by a power tool there. The penultimate chapter climax takes place on a Green Mountain top in New Hampshire. Cianna is too feisty for a romance with Jack.
The Guardian is a twist on the standard Arab terrorist format. For all their faults, a holy relic is a holy relic. The US not staying the course in its foreign interventions (e.g. entering wars without an exit strategy) deserves more serious thought than it has been given.
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer