Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Mirage by Matt Ruff

In The Mirage, it's November 9, 2001 (that's 11/9) and 4 high-jacked jetliners are heading to their targets: the World Trade Towers in Badhdad; the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh; and Mecca. Three of the four planes hit their targets and the UAS (United Arab States) declares a war on terror by invading the east coast of North America. Several years later, a suicide bomber is captured by Homeland Security. He claims that the Arabs are living in a mirage and that the USA is the real super power. In his apartment they find some supporting evidence -- a newspaper -- the New York Times dated September 12, 2001 (the day after 9/11) describing the 4 high-jacked jetliners attacking America. Mustafa from Homeland Security sets out to discover the truth.

There's one line from the HarperCollins description online (Harpercollins.com), which describes the book perfectly: The author has created "...a shadow world that is eerily recognizable but, at the same time, almost unimaginable."

I really enjoyed this one, but it took me a long time to get through it. I'm a slow reader to start with and the Arab names and the subject matter slowed me down even further. Also, I tried to read it during the Olympics, a time period in which I watched a lot of TV, but got very little reading done. Because there were long stretches where I didn't pick up the book at all, it was a little hard to get into at times. I think I did okay, though.

I read this book on Mark's (from HarperCollins) recommendation. I've enjoyed a few others he suggested, so I trusted him on this one. He was right. It was extremely interesting and entertaining to read this book in which the author created a topsy-turvy world in which United Arab States (UAS) is the super power, not the USA.

Reading the book was a little disorienting, though. It's like walking into a room and finding everything upside down. It looks familiar, but something's not quite right. It was hard to get my head around the whole thing. Even though reading about violence (or anything for that matter) in the Middle East or Iraq/Afghanistan usually makes my eyes glaze over, some familiar references in the book kept me on my toes and continually peaked my interest.

In-between chapters, Ruff inserted snippets from "The Library of Alexandria" - A User-Edited Reference Source to explain various terms to the reader. There were much like our Wikipedia entries. Remember this is a world turned upside down, so people like Saddam, bin Laden, Lyndon B. Johnson and Rumsfeld have very different roles that need explaining. So do things like Al Qaeda, the CIA, the green zone, Baghdad, Israel and much more. I loved reading these entries.

I liked the first half of the book (Books One and Two) better than the last half. I'm not sure why, but when it got to explaining what was happening in the US and the key players, I didn't find it as interesting. It could also have been that the newness and novelty were wearing off.

I would have loved to have seen a map of the United Arab States (UAS). I love maps and have a vague idea about the location of most of the Arab countries involved, but a map would have been awesome for reference. I would have also liked a map of North America, too, just to see how the author imagined it might be.

New Words:
abaya (page 49): Arab outer garment
apocrypha (page 54): early Christian writings not included in the Bible
dishdasha (page 96): long robe worn by Arab men
djellaba (page 104): long robe worn in Islamic countries
sigheh (page 145): a Shiite tradition of temporary marriage with a predetermined time frame
niqab (page 213): A veil worn by some Muslim women in public, covering all of the face apart from the eyes.
narthex (page 275): screened off area or entrance hall in a church.

Highly recommended. You'll probably never read another book like this one.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy. Thanks Mark for the recommendation.

The Mirage by Matt Ruff, Harper (HarperCollins), ©2012. ISBN 9780061976223(Uncorrected Proof), 414p.

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