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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

 

Essie Fox has written a powerful Victorian novel, set in Hertfordshire in London’s East End; the writing so vivid that the reader can almost hear carriage wheels riding over ancient cobblestones, and easily imagine the incessant fog conjuring up ghostly figures and eerie lighting. The Somnambulist is a moody and nostalgic tale of obsessive love and betrayal, full of unexpected twists and turns, eventually revealing the truth behind family mysteries and dark intrigue.

The young and naïve protagonist Phoebe Turner captivates the reader as soon as she arrives on the scene. And then there is her beautiful, sensuous aunt Cissy who rescues Phoebe from a suffocating life of religious fervour and introduces her to the wonderful world of the music hall stage, passionate men and the intense spiritualism that pervaded the Victorian era. Docks, music halls, and graveyards add to the Gothic atmosphere of the tale. Mysterious men with past connections to Cissy and the Turner family seem to pop up everywhere only to confuse Phoebe even more. And why do the dead exert such influence over the living? As Phoebe grows into womanhood, she begins to learn more about the secrets of the past, only for tragedy to strike again.

I love the way Essie Fox weaves her Gothic tale around the haunting painting of the same name:     ‘The Somnambulist’ by Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais.

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The painting overshadows the goings-on in the Turner household and Phoebe is haunted by it, often dreaming about the sad woman wandering the dark cliffs, seemingly alone. But is she alone? Phoebe suspects that it is a painting depicting her adored aunt Cissy in the role. She often wishes Cissy was her mother instead of Cissy’s much older sister the religious zealot, Maud, whose life is devoted to converting heathen men and women, including whores, to a life with Jesus, and to preventing Phoebe from falling into the evil abyss like Cissy has done, due to her life on the stage in music halls surrounded by loose women and ‘dangerous’ men.

When seventeen-year-old Phoebe visits Wilton’s Music Hall with her Aunt Cissy, her life changes forever, and she risks the angry preaching of Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, and who besiege the streets calling for all London theatres and music halls to close.

Actually, the plot may be set in the Victorian era, but I can relate to Phoebe as a 17 year old, lied to, had her parents stolen from her because of some Christian hypocrites who long ago made the decision to keep Phoebe in the ‘dark’ about her true parentage. The plot is not that far-fetched as far as family intrigue goes, in my view, but what Fox has achieved in ‘The Somnambulist’ is the clever weaving of many layers intertwined with mystery and subterfuge all the while evoking emotion and sympathy from the reader toward Phoebe, and also toward her aunt Cissy, both of whom seem to be doomed to a life filled with deception, regret, betrayal, and loss.

Since reading ‘The Somnambulist’ and ‘The Goddess and the Thief’ by Essie Fox, I have now catapulted her into ‘My Favourite Authors’ category which is unusual as my most read genre is non-fiction and some historical fiction. Although, I would classify this wonderful book as Victorian historical fiction, interlaced with thespian dramatics and spiritual effect.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 19 December 2018

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The Goddess And The Thief by Essie Fox …read my review here:

 

Anne Frandi-Coory Reviews of Books in My Collection here on facebook:

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Dr Helen McGrath is currently an adjunct professor at both Deakin and RMIT Universities.

Cheryl Critchley is a prolific investigative journalist.

 

The fifteen crimes analyzed in this book, all carried out in Australia,  involve three women and twelve men. The criminals were generally not diagnosed with a severe mental illness, however, they were all diagnosed as having a mental disorder, such as a personality disorder, and they were well aware that what they were doing was wrong. The difference between mental illness and a personality disorder is explained in detail at the beginning of the book.

The various personality disorders are delved into at length by the authors. MIND BEHIND THE CRIME is well set out, divided into chapters and parts  e.g. each chapter is devoted to one specific crime with the offender and victim/s involved in that particular crime listed at the beginning of the relevant chapter. Parts of the book are divided up into the specific, diagnosed disorders as they relate to each perpetrator’s behaviour and decision-making in the lead up to their horrendous crime.

PART 1: Filicide and familicide – Killing Your Own Family

‘Men commit nearly all familicides and filicides (92-97 %) and there is evidence that such mass murders are increasing in Australia.’

Filicide is the term used to describe a situation in which a parent intentionally kills one or more of their children …the parent may or may not then kill themselves. The motive and case history of each of these crimes is explored thoroughly.  Familicide and familicide-suicide are the two terms most commonly used to describe a situation in which one family member kills or attempts to kill all members of their direct family and then often suicides. Classification schemes are used to aid the reader in identifying the behaviours and mental disorders that motivated these murderers.

Family annihilation is described as a subcategory of mass murder, defined as the killing of four or more members of the one family in one location and during one event. Family annihilators are mostly men.

‘Associate professor Carolyn Harris Johnson, a leading expert in filicide and familicide…points out that the media frequently romanticises (saying they acted out of love) and sanitises this type of crime, to soothe the anxieties of the audience because the subject matter of child murder is taboo, or too confronting for most people. But this approach distorts the public’s understanding of why these events occur and the extent of the perpetrator’s responsibility. This makes it much more difficult to identify actions that can be taken as early warning signs and prevent such child murders in the future.’ [my emphasis]

A summary of each of four categories are:

The self-righteous killer-seeks to blame their partner for damage to family, breakdown of relationship, etc. Has been controlling and possessive in the past, engages in over- dramatic behaviour and comments, may attempt suicide to avoid facing the criminal justice system.

The disappointed killer – concludes their family has let them down, their family is an extension of their own needs and aspirations, self-obsession prevents them from seeing their children as separate entities.

The anomic killer – perceives they have damaged their family’s income or lifestyle, have lost their economic status, lost their job.

The paranoid killer – perceives there is an external threat (real or imagined) that will destroy their family e.g. social services may take their children.

 PART 2: Narcissistic personality disorder and malignant narcissism – arrogant, dangerous and sometimes vulnerable.

PART 3: Dependent personality disorder – desperately needy.

PART 4:  Paranoid personality disorder – you can’t trust anyone

PART 5: Antisocial personality disorder – Life outside the rules. People with ASPD can be dangerous and difficult to detect. They lurk in homes and workplaces, playing the role of the perfect partner or colleague until they decide to use and abuse those around them for their own ends.

PART 6: Criminal autistic psychopathy and sexual sadism disorder –

a dangerous combination:

1. autistic spectrum disorder.

2. Asperger’s syndrome.

3. pervasive developmental disorder.

A diagnosis of this disorder can be made when there is evidence of behaviours such as those listed in the following two categories:

1. behaviours that indicate deficits in social communication and interaction. (Deficits in social communication and interaction are listed in more detail in this section).

2. restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.

Every one of the above disorders is explained at length in each section to help the reader understand the mind and behaviours of the perpetrator at the time the crime was committed.

All of the cases chosen for this book are recent high-profile Australian murders most readers will already know about.  MIND BEHIND THE CRIME refers to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual and other classification schemes to help explain each disorder and the subsequent motives of the perpetrators involved.

The authors argue that no amount of mild to moderate depression excuses killing those closest to you. It is never justified and the perpetrators should be called what they are – murderers. They go on to say:

“A common myth about these crimes is that parents who kill their children do so out of love and that the extreme love they feel for their child/children means they can’t bear to be separated from them…loving fathers and husbands don’t kill their kids. And unless the public’s perception of these murderers changes, other men will continue to feel that if life gets too tough they, too, can take this option and be eulogized by their loved ones in the media rather than condemned  as they should be.’ Most children were killed in a brutal and violent way; in their last moments knowing that it was their father who killed them.

‘The positive way many of those who kill their children are described in the media has the potential to influence others to commit the same crimes. Such coverage also detracts from the victims’ suffering and makes the crimes seem less horrifying. It implies that nothing can be done about these killings because they are neither predictable nor preventable. This would not be the case if, as a society, we accepted the hard reality about these crimes and focused more on identifying potential warning signs.’

It is clear at the outset that the authors care deeply about the victims involved in these crimes. They warn of the dangers that men with these disorders pose to their wives/partners and children. There is an appendix at the rear of the book: ‘Where to go for help and support’.

This is a book for our times, and I recommend it to readers who may know of someone in their family who is at risk, or for anyone interested in trying to make sense of why these murders are occurring across Australia. There is also widespread concern that Australia’s Family Court system requires reform to ensure that justice is done and that families and children are better protected.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 14 December 2018

 

 

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A friend recently introduced me to author Essie Fox and I’m so glad she did. The first of Fox’s books that I have since read, is The Goddess And The Thief and I am so looking forward to reading another of her books The Somnambulist.

The Goddess And The Thief  is set in the time of Queen Victoria, when Great Britain was in the throes of plundering India and exiling the Maharajah (Great Ruler) with the inestimable assistance of the Honourable East India Company, during the early days of the British Empire. This very fine example of a well researched historical novel is my favourite genre; a way of learning about world history via a great story.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Essie Fox was herself a Hindu goddess …every line she has written in this book, is evocative of wonderful, sumptuous India, juxtaposed with the corset-laced Victorian age;  an era fixated with death, opium and all things exotic.

Readers will be able to instantly identify with the motherless heroine, Alice, who after her father had died, moved permanently back to Windsor, England. Hindu mysticism along with childhood memories of India travel over the seas with her; apparent reincarnations and a sculptured goddess whose eyes appear to follow her every move in her father’s house, confuse Alice.  And her Aunt Mercy, who at best is ambivalent towards Alice, is obsessed with the mysterious and intense Lucian Tilsbury.  When the troubled Alice reaches her teens, she finds herself reluctantly attracted to him, also a little afraid of the intense, sexual affect he has on her, no matter how much she fights it.  What are Tilsbury’s true intentions? Why are her aunt and Tilsbury so intent on stealing the Koh-i-Noor diamond from Queen Victoria and returning it to India where he believes it rightfully belongs and which Britain had claimed as its own at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars? There is also mystery surrounding Mini, her ayah, whom Alice adored. Her heart broke when she had to leave her behind in India, and she yearns to return to be re-united with her beloved Mini, whose parting gift was a bangle made of glass beads and sacred brown rudraksha seeds, given with her last words:

Always wear this my dearest, it shall be a token of our love. And every time you touch a bead you shall know that Mini thinks of thee, and that Mini shall be praying still for her beloved’s safe return.

Aunt Mercy, a spiritualist medium, wants Alice to be her assistant during séances held for broken-hearted women, including Queen Victoria, who has a compulsive yearning to re-connect with her beloved Prince Albert who has recently died so young. Although Alice agrees to aid her aunt during séances initially, she finds the experience unnerving and unethical, and the relationship between Alice and her demanding aunt deteriorates rapidly. Mystery and suspense evocative of India fill every page of this book, and Fox’s superb writing sucks the reader into the sensuous depths of this beguiling story. I especially loved Fox’s use in the book of asides with such titles as The Letter Never Sent and The Prayer Never Answered to unobtrusively give the reader some insight into the past.

Eventually Alice begins to experience bizarre ‘dreams’ in Mercy’s house and later in Tilsbury’s,  where he eventually confines her in a strange bedroom under what she believes is some sort of spell,  although the stupor that envelops her renders her unable to think clearly.  Added to that, ghosts appear in odd places, seemingly to warn Alice of danger. Statues of the goddess Parvati and her consort Shiva sometimes seem to move; are they just figments of her vivid imagination, reincarnations if you will, of the stories Mini used to tell her?

There is no-one apart from Mrs Morrison, Aunt Mercy’s cook, who Alice feels she can trust. But then, how can she find the words to explain the mysterious and devastating effect that Lucian Tilsbury has over her body and soul?

 

Anne Frandi-Coory – 25 September 2018

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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox…read my review here: 

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I have always been interested in why people do the things they do; why they commit crimes, particularly murder. Was it nature or nurture, or a combination of both? I have read many biographies for this reason, and I love British criminal investigation series like Vera and Silent Witness, to name only two. Criminal profiling has come into prominence in recent years, and I find this method of investigating crimes fascinating, ever since I watched the British TV series ‘Cracker’ about a psychologist/police profiler played by Robbie Coltrane.

I spotted The Profiler by Pat Brown, on display in a book store, bought it and raced home to read it. I find reading books so relaxing and it helps clear my mind after I’ve spent the day as a key board warrior on social media taking politicians to task, posting my opinions on the state of the world in general. In between, answering questions on my blog, or my email accounts, and responding to various comments.

The cases Pat Brown has investigated and writes about in The Profiler are all very interesting and varied. She has also investigated suicides and, how, although they are relatively easy to investigate compared to complicated murder scenes, families find it difficult to believe that their loved ones would want to kill themselves. It is another level of heartbreak for them.

Pat Brown’s successful career as a criminal profiler intrigued me, especially the round-about-way she qualified and became such a success at it. To be honest, I didn’t expect that a large part of the book would be taken up with her story as a mother who not only home-schooled her three children but who also worked nights interpreting for deaf suspects being interviewed by police. She was a mother who wasn’t happy with the standard of education at the only school in the area and decided that she would home-school them. She describes herself as being an ‘earth mother’ and she relished the role. Not only that, she also took in foster children and a boarder to help finance their large home and their lifestyle. Once her children had left school and had embarked on their own life journeys, she decided to use the language skills she had honed, to study. I enjoyed this part of the book almost as much as I enjoyed the criminal profiling cases Brown actually got down to writing about. All-in-all Brown spent about ten years working in the emergency rooms at a Washington hospital centre and Howard University. In these establishments Brown says she learned a lot about forensics when her deaf clients rolled in on stretchers and she acted as interpreter. This was one of the most violent wards in Washington DC.  Subsequently, Brown studied criminal profiling in depth and was eventually proficient enough in the field to work with police, families, or to be hosted on TV shows to discuss various crimes and give her opinion using her skills. It took her several years to prove herself, and to be taken seriously, especially by police.

The cases Brown investigates in the book are varied, and she takes us through each stage meticulously. Many of the cases remain unsolved because of police carelessness in ’losing’ evidence, concentrating on the wrong suspect, or as in one case, possibly protecting the main suspect because of their connections ‘high up’. Brown wished to join the FBI as a criminal profiling agent, but she was too old among other things that I won’t delve into here. Brown largely educated herself by reading hundreds of books and studying various textbooks. She eventually earned a Masters degree in criminal justice from Boston University in order to “learn more about police operations and procedures and the challenges of the criminal justice system in general.”  She later developed the first accredited Criminal Profiling and Investigative Analysis programme in the country for Excelsior College where she is an adjunct professor.

It is alarming to discover how many brutal murders remain unsolved in the US and the reasons are many, but the majority are unsolved because of the lack of funds to investigate crimes in depth, and of course more serious crimes are happening more often and there just aren’t enough police or resources to continue on-going investigations for any length of time. Brown is aghast at the carelessness by which some police initially investigate serious crimes, such as not taking good photographic evidence of the crime scenes, not sealing off crime scenes, neglecting to interview all suspects, or take samples of blood or other body fluids left at the scene of the crime for DNA testing. Brown is constantly asked by families to investigate cold cases involving the murder or suspected suicide of a loved one because they don’t believe the police have done their job thoroughly enough and have reached the wrong conclusions.

I was a little disappointed that none of the crimes Pat Brown investigated resulted in an arrest or a conviction. The main reasons for this were because they were cold cases, in which evidence was lost or was insufficient to enable a conviction. From what I read, the police were at the very least, careless in their investigations of the crimes, and at best, negligent, especially at the initial stages when the crime scene was first discovered. The police who were involved were often not willing to assist Pat Brown by allowing her access to evidence when they did have it, and in one case, the judge sealed evidence and refused to release it. Never-the-less, Brown was able to proceed with criminal profiling  in spite of these set-backs, by interviewing police, suspects, family members, witnesses and obtaining autopsies. She also used lie-detectors on some suspects.

I recommend this as a great read for anyone who has a keen interest in criminal profiling.  There is no doubt that a female author writes criminal profiling from a whole new angle when compared to male authors. I have to admit to enjoying the change of perspective.

-Anne Frandi-Coory  15 August 2018

 

 

The Silk Roads; A New History of the World

by Peter Frankopan, a senior research fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, and Director of the Centre for Byzantine Research at Oxford University.

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I think all current politicians and economists should read this book, because history repeats again and again but then, politicians and world leaders never seem to learn. Frankopan’s research is extensive and he presents many source testimonies and documents to support his claims. His writing moves along at a swift and thoroughly engaging pace. I would go so far as to recommend this book to college teachers. It gives a rare and independent insight into the political history of our world.

Historically, the Silk Roads were a network, with their geographical centre in Asia Minor, Central Asia, the Caucasus, China and the Middle East; territories that met, and traded with one another along arterial routes of communication. These routes influenced the world as we know it today. Ideas, cultures and religions were also spread via this network.

Bettany Hughes, whose book A Tale of Three Cities; ISTANBUL is also a great read, says of Frankopan’s ‘The Silk Roads’: How shamefully we in the West have been caught in the 20th and early 21st centuries with our strategic trousers around our ankles, … failing to remember why the map of the Middle East is drawn with such straight lines. Our ancestors would have been horrified by today’s wilful ignorance. Ancient reports of the region (studded, admittedly, with some fantastical nonsense) would put many modern memos to shame. Tellingly, Frankopan includes some recently released diplomatic cables and US political briefings describing Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran that are cringingly callow, and exemplify the danger of living in what the late historian Eric Hobsbawm called the ‘permanent present’, ignorant of our past.

In this vein, to quote Frankopan: The liberation of Christendom seemed to be at hand…it soon became clear how wrong these reports were…what was heading towards Europe was not the road to heaven, but a path that seemed to lead straight to hell. Galloping along it were the Mongols…Later the Mongols became increasingly interested in the techniques that had been pioneered by western Europeans, copying designs for catapults and siege engines created for the crusaders in the Holy Land and using them against targets in East Asia in the late thirteenth century. In this way Control of the Silk Roads gave their masters access to information and ideas that could be replicated and deployed thousands of miles away.

In the sixteenth century the age of empire and the rise of the west were built on the capacity to inflict violence on a major scale eg. the Americas. By then the best money was to be had in human trafficking and it was said to be ‘in league with the crown and with god.’ Before the discovery of the Americas, trading patterns ‘had begun to pick up’ and many scholars argue that this was due to improved access to precious metals and ‘the rising output of mines.’ But other scholars ‘point to the fact that tax collection became more efficient in the second half of the fifteenth century.’ [Perhaps our current political leaders and economists should take note]: ‘Economic contraction had forced lessons to be learned…’ and the collection and setting of taxes paid a crucial part in those valuable lessons.

I thought The Road to Empire a very interesting chapter and one which mirrors much of what is happening in our 21st Century:

Ottoman bureaucrats had proved to be highly skilled administrators, adept at centralising resources …as the empire swallowed up more territory in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this had worked efficiently and smoothly. When the momentum of expansion slowed…the fragility of the system became apparent, under pressure from the cost of sustaining military action on two fronts- in Europe in the west and with Safavid Persia in the east…but also as a result of climatic change that had a particularly severe impact on the Ottoman world. [my emphases].

Frankopan discusses at length the different outcomes relating to the gap between rich and poor in Islamic countries as opposed to Christian countries in the west. It may not surprise many readers that Islamic countries had the more equitable laws which meant less concentration of wealth and property within a few elite families, including royal dynasties, as in the west.

Under the surface, powerful currents were swirling unseen…Robert Orme’s attitudes were typical of the eighteenth century; The first official historian of the East India Company, Orme penned an essay whose title On The Effeminacy of the Inhabitants of Indostan [India], reveals much about how contemporary thinking had toughened. A bullish sense of entitlement was rising fast. Attitudes on Asia were changing from excitement about profits to be made to thoughts of brute exploitation…It was the Wild East – a prelude to similar scenes in the west of North America a century later. Go to India, the memoirist William Hickey’s father told him, and cut off half a dozen rich fellows’ heads… and so return a nabob. Serving the East India Company in India was a one-way ticket to fortune.

The Road To Crisis is an intriguing chapter in which late eighteenth century Russia looms large as a threat to Britain. Anyone interested in the part Russia played in forming the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century, will find this very interesting, as I did. Much of what is happening in our world today, makes more sense, and I understand the reasons why China and Russia do not trust the west. This includes the aftermath of the Crimean war and Russia’s determination to claim back the Crimea peninsula.  The west would eventually help the spread of Islam in the East as a way of curtailing Russian expansionism.

‘In the late nineteenth century, Russian confidence, bullishness even, was rising fast.’ Britain planned to expand its territories into the far East, and in this quest, was in competition with Russia. But once China granted trading privileges to the British, they had little hesitation in using force to preserve and extend their position. Central to the commercial expansion was the sale of opium despite fierce protests by the Chinese, whose outrage at the devastating effects of drug addiction was shrugged off by the British authorities. The opium trade had expanded following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, which opened up access to ports where the trade had been restricted previously, while also ceding Hong Kong to the British; further concessions were granted after British and French forces marched on Beijing in 1860, looting and burning the Old Summer palace.

Britain was also keeping a watchful eye on Russia which was meddling in one of Britain’s most prized possessions: Persia with its black gold. ‘Russian ghosts were everywhere. Anxious Foreign Office officials pored over a stream of reports on the activities of Tsarist officials, engineers and surveyors in Persia, that was flooding back to London.’

The reasons for the First World War: ‘World leaders go to war for their egos…’ in this case the fight over Persian oil, and the carving up of Ottoman Empire territories. Offerings of an ‘empire’ to leading figures in the Arab world were made in return for their support. The wheeling and dealing, involving Russia, Germany and Britain, while the first world war was raging, is sickening, and all the while Britain was fearful of ‘losing’ India. ‘The former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour was anxious that ‘a rapid defeat of Germany’ would make Russia more dangerous still by fuelling the ambitions of the latter to the extent that ‘India might be at risk’. There was another worry: Balfour had also heard rumours that a well-connected lobby in St Petersburg was trying to come to terms with Germany; this he reckoned would be ‘as disastrous for Britain as losing the war’.

Both Britain and France passionately claimed to have noble aims at heart and were striving to set free ‘the populations subject to the bloody tyranny of the Turks’, according to The Times of London. ‘It was all bad’ wrote Edward House, President Wilson’s foreign policy adviser, when he found out about the secret agreement from the British Foreign Secretary. ‘The French and the British are making the Middle East a breeding place for future war’. [my emphasis]

…By the end of 1942, the thoughts of the new allies, Britain, the USA, and the Soviet Union were turning to the future…it was clear that the ‘effort, expense and trauma of another massive confrontation had exhausted western Europe’. It was already obvious that the old empires had to be wound down. Such chapter titles as The Road to Genocide, The Road to Super Power Rivalry, and The Road To Catastrophe are a good indication of what followed the Second World War. Most of us know some of this history, but The Silk Roads describes in detail, much of it in newly released source documents, the tragic consequences of this, to my mind, a completely unnecessary war. The claim in this book that world leaders go to war largely for their egos, is as true today as it has been throughout human history.

Post Second World War there was concern across the world for the seemingly out-of- control proliferation of nuclear weapons manufacture. Most readers will by now be well versed in the reasons for the later USA invasion of Iraq, but many will be surprised by the indirect involvement of Israel, USA, England, Italy, France and Russia in the years leading up to the invasion.   Few had doubts that the research reactors, powered by weapons grade uranium and other materials essential for dual use, as well as separation and handling facilities capable of extracting plutonium from irradiated uranium, were solely for energy purposes. The west turned a blind eye as and when needed. As Pakistani scientists noted ruefully: ‘…the western world was sure that an underdeveloped country like Pakistan could never master this technology…and yet at the same time western countries made hectic and persistent efforts to sell everything to Pakistan. They literally begged us to buy their equipment’.

Frankopan writes:

As it was, it was not hard to see how stern talk from countries like the US, Britain and France, which refused to be subject to the inspections and rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency, grated with those that did and had to conduct their research in secret; but the real hypocrisy, in the cold light of day, lay in the enthusiasm with which the developed world rushed to earn hard cash or gain access to cheap oil.

There were half-hearted attempts to curtail the spread of nuclear materials. In 1976, Kissinger suggested that Pakistan should wind down its processing project and rely instead on a US-supplied facility being built in Iran that was part of a scheme devised by none other than Dick Cheney, for the plant in Iran to serve as a hub for energy needs across the region. When the President of Pakistan turned down this offer, the US threatened to cut off the country’s aid package.

In 1980 US President Carter’s handling of the hostage situation and the Iranian oil embargo was a catastrophe. Operation Eagle Claw, the covert mission he authorised to rescue hostages… ‘was a propaganda disaster’… this was but one disaster in a changing world order. Countries were fighting back against the hypocrisy of the west.

In the mid-1980s, when the United Nations reports concluded that Iraq was using chemical weapons against its own civilians, the US responded with silence. Condemnation of Saddam’s brutal and sustained moves against the Kurdish population of Iraq was conspicuous by its absence. It was simply noted in American military reports that ‘chemical agents’ were being used extensively against civilian targets. Iraq was more important to the United States than the principles of International Law – and more important than the victims.

The chapter on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, its subsequent withdrawal of troops and weaponry, and the involvement of China, USA and Saudi Arabia in training and supporting Islamic militants is a must read.

Those resisting the Soviet army were supplied with money and weapons by the three countries. The long-term implications and consequences are now well known and documented, if not the initial struggle in ridding Afghanistan of the Soviet invaders.

Men of Saudi extraction who followed their conscience to fight in Afghanistan were highly regarded. Men like Osama Bin Laden – well connected, articulate and personally impressive – were perfectly placed to act as conduits for large sums of money given by Saudi benefactors. The significance of this of course, only became all too apparent later.

Frankopan lays out in detail how these events have made our world much more dangerous, and volatile, than it ever was.

Things were not going well between the USA and Iraq for various reasons, and there was mistrust on both sides. Rumours were rife that the USA was about to overthrow Saddam. Consequently, ‘…in one of the most damning documents of the late twentieth century, a leaked transcript’ of the then ambassador’s meeting with the Iraqi leader in 1990, reveals that she told Saddam that she had ‘direct instructions from President Bush to improve our relations with Iraq…we know you need funds…’. Iraq was running up debts in the war with Iran and the depressed price of oil presented problems for the economy. Saddam subsequently asked the ambassador what USA’s opinion was on his solution: to take over control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, a region over which Iraq was involved in a long-running dispute with Kuwait. The ambassador answered, [to summarise], that ‘…the Kuwait issue is not associated with America’. Saddam had asked for a green light from the US, and he got one. The following week he invaded Kuwait.  Frankopan:

The consequences proved catastrophic. Over the course of the next three decades, global affairs would be dominated by events in countries running across the spine of Asia. The struggle for control and influence in these countries produced wars, insurrections and international terrorism – but also opportunities and prospects, not just in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, but in a belt of countries stretching east from the Black Sea, from Syria to Ukraine, Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, and from Russia to China too. The story of the world has always been centred on these countries, but since the time of the invasion of Kuwait, everything has been about the emergence of the New Silk Road.

In conclusion, under the chapter The New Silk Road Frankopan warns, and I quote in full: In many ways, the late twentieth and early twentieth centuries have represented something of a disaster for the United States and Europe as they have played out their doomed struggle to retain their position in the vital territories that link east with west. What has been striking throughout the events of recent decades is the west’s lack of perspective about global history – about the bigger picture, the wider themes and the larger patterns playing out in the region. In the minds of policy planners, politicians, diplomats and generals, the problems of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq seemed distinct, separate, and only loosely linked to each other…While we ponder where the next threat might come from, how best to deal with religious extremism, how to negotiate with states who seem willing to disregard international law, and how to build relations with peoples, cultures and regions about whom we have spent little or no time trying to understand, networks and connections are quietly being knitted together across the spine of Asia; or rather, they are being restored. The Silk Roads are rising again.

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-Anne Frandi-Coory

A Tale Of Three Cities ISTANBUL 

-Bettany Hughes

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A Book Review – 5 stars *****

 

Byzantion of Greece’s ancient past,  the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, famed Constantinople of New Rome and Muslim Ottoman Empire that today goes by the name of Istanbul, Turkish republic.

‘Istanbul is the city of many names’, writes Bettany Hughes: Byzantion, Byzantium, New Rome, Stambol, Islam-bol are just a few of them. And Istanbul today ‘is lapped by the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara; to the north is the Black Sea and to the south, through the Hellespont or Dardanelles, the Mediterranean.’

A diamond mounted between two sapphires and two emeralds…the precious stone in the ring of a vast dominion which embraced the entire world as described in ‘The Dream of Osman’ c. AD 1280.

Hughes guides the reader around the city that I wish I had visited. It is obvious from reading this book that the author has walked Istanbul’s streets and knows the city well, and she has meticulously researched  its 8000 years of history. I can assure you that this is no dreary history book the likes of which bored us to tears at school. The ancient town of Byzantion’s King Byzas (legend has it that his father was Poseidon, his grandfather, Zeus) was well located at the intersection of trade routes. Eventually the Roman emperor Constantine decided that ‘Old Rome’ was too far away from all the action and over time the City of Constantine became Constantinople, the New Rome, capital of the Roman Empire itself. The gateway between East and  West. Constantinople’s Christian name was changed to Istanbul around 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The book has short chapters with clear and helpful titles, dated in both Western and Islamic calendar formats where appropriate.  It enables readers to navigate this vast book in piecemeal fashion, but I found it difficult to  put this book aside; it is so well researched and written, with personal written accounts from people who were present during many of the historical events, which made the book all the more fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the frequent references to current and recent archaeological digs the findings of which verify historical accounts.  Hughes includes several maps and colour plates, which I constantly referred to as I was reading. It is evident that the West owes far more to Eastern cultures than we have been ready to believe in the past. The Roman Empire pillaged much wealth from Egypt and the East and in turn the Ottomans pillaged from Roman territories. It is arguable that the rabble that made up early Western civilisation reached a turning point when it invaded and colonised Egypt.

*****

Ottoman and Byzantine territory in the east Mediterranean c. AD 1451

 

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Muslim and Christian lived in relatively peaceful harmony during the Ottoman era but both sides could be extremely brutal whenever their territories or power were threatened. The Ottomans, however, were far more than their harams and baths, which titillated and attracted travellers; they were skilled diplomats and traders. Christian slave boys ‘harvested’ from the West were trained as interpreters.  Called Dragomans, one of their critical attributes was their facility with languages, and some of them could speak up to seven languages which enabled the empire to spread its culture and bargain with valuable commodities to negotiate peace. When the Ottoman Empire began to crumble at the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany, France and Britain ‘fought over the spoils’ and it is apparent that the after-effects of this breaking up of once cohesive territories helped to turn Christianity and Islam against each other which we are still witnessing in modern times. Millions of refugees were displaced during the carve up of territories, and millions died.

This book, as well as being a great read, informs readers on how the current geo-political era came into being, and it does not always put the West in a good light. We owe so much of the great advances and wealth in our Western civilisation to the East, and let us not forget, to Islam

-Anne Frandi-Coory  27 October 2017

*****

Also here on Anne Frandi-Coory’s Facebook page: 

https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

  

Will our heroes find the object they need to find in order to complete the next step in their quest?

 

One relic found and another to locate, or so that’s what Evan thought, it’s what his “father” Zeus told him when he dumped him in world and time so far removed from the twenty-first century. What if he doesn’t find the sacred objects? Will he be trapped forever in this forsaken age? Join Evan and his companions as they continue their epic odyssey, traversing the ancient world in search of powerful icons that even the gods are frightened of.

 

In

The Labyrinthine Journey

 will reluctant modern day hero, Evan and his friends succeed in finding the relics to stop the advent of Christianity?

The odyssey continues. Will Evan succeed in his quest to find the relics and go home?

The quest to locate the sacred object adds pressure to the uneasy alliance between Evan and the Atlanteans. His inability to accept the world he’s in, and his constant battle with Zeus, both threaten to derail the expedition and his life.

Traversing the mountainous terrain of the Peloponnese and Corinthian Gulf to the centre of the spiritual world, Evan meets with Pythia, Oracle of Delphi. Her cryptic prophecy reveals much more than he expected; something that changes his concept of the ancient world and his former way of life.

You can buy book l and ll here on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Labyrinthine-Journey-Servant-Gods-Book-ebook/dp/B075QGZQP9

Read more here about Book l of The Odyssey:

‘The Search For The Golden Serpent’

**********

 

Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro,

likes to meander between contemporary life to the realms of mythology and history.

Luciana has always been interested in Mythology and Ancient History but her passion wasn’t realised until seeing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

From then on, she was inspired to write Historical Fantasy.

She has spent many lessons promoting literature and the merits of ancient history. Today, you will still find Luciana in the classroom, teaching and promoting literature. To keep up-to-date with her ramblings, ahem, that is meanderings, subscribe to her mailing list at

http://www.luccav.com.

 

You can connect with her via:

Website www.luccav.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/ClucianaLuciana

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Luciana-Cavallaro-Writer/304218202959903?ref=hl

LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=242021145&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic

 

*****

Please visit Anne Frandi-Coory’s facebook page here: 

https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

 

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