Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review: The Black Sea

A Fair Trade Book

Title: The Black Sea

(Note that what I have is not the advance reading copy, and has a different jacket.)

Author: Richard Setlowe

Author's web site:

Date: 1991

Publisher: Ticknor & Fields

ISBN: 0-395-56927-3

Length: 413 pages

Quote: “‘The Society felt a Russian ship would add another dimension to the cruise,’ Maggi answered. ‘But this is a voyage to the exotic isles of the Java Sea,’ Liz proclaimed.”

The year was 1991 and the times they were a-changin’. The Cold War was over. Americans were free to like Russians (no longer “Soviets”) if we could. (“The French always insisted that the Russians and the Americans were by nature so much alike that they would be great friends if they had not been enemies,” Setlowe observes on page 134.) Many  southern Asian countries were opening the doors to trade and tourism from both countries…and radical “Islamism,” jihadism, was building up to become a threat in Asia. And Richard Setlowe, Navy veteran, reporter, and novelist, who had travelled in Asia extensively, was asked to write about what he’d observed and where he thought it might be leading.

Setlowe’s way of talking about what he knew and believed about our relationships with the Asian countries was this novel, in which a mixed group of Russians and Americans bond when they’re taken hostage by a gang of Malay pirates. The heroic spirits of Captain Stewart, the veteran, and Maggi, the interpreter, and Tengku, the pirate chief, are strained to their limits as the three form a romantic triangle that will, of course, be resolved by at least one of the three killing at least one of the others; I’ll leave those who are interested to find out who kills whom.

If you like adventure stories with a good deal of violence—tortures, rapes, and beheadings narrated in the most matter-of-fact way—in among descriptions of beautiful tropical sunsets, debates about when to call similar dishes “shashlik, shish kabob, or satay,” and reflections on the Koran and the Tao Te Ching, then you’ll like The Black Sea. It’s not a favorite of mine but it’s well written, for its genre, and by now we’ve seen that some of Setlowe’s insights were true.

The usual Fair Trade Book policy applies: Send $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment to the appropriate address from the very bottom of your screen, out of which we'll send $1 per book to Setlowe or a charity of his choice.