Friday, November 2, 2012

Formation of the Middle East

Read David Fromkin's book A Peace to end all peace on the formation of the Middle East as a result of interactions between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire during World War I as part of an online group read.
What I liked about it:

Big picture view of Western European interests that were influential in creating what we call the Middle East out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey/Middle East/Central Asia). Particularly British, as well as (to a lesser extent) France, Russia/USSR.

My impressions:

Britain's interests were conflicted – they started out wanting to protect the overland path to the Indian Empire from their rivals in Europe & Russia. However, various parts of the empire (India = Simla, Egyptian protectorate, & various factions in London ) had different points of view at different times. Kitchener/Mark Sykes/ David Lloyd George/Winston Churchill are the names I have retained. Alliances & agreements between the Allies changed also.

Britain supported two sons of Sheriff Hussein of Mecca for “rulership” while France supported the Saud family. It’s no wonder there is conflict, as the form of government the region was accustomed to was destroyed, and there was no clear authoritative form of government or monarch to put in its place.

Britain ended up with the biggest “piece of the pie” – Palestine, “Transjordan” (which was part of Palestine), Egypt, Persia (Iran), Iraq (created out of 3 provinces of the empire); France with Lebanon (which started out as part of Palestine) & the Saudi Peninsula, including Mecca. And Turkey gained independence.

By the time World War I was over & treaties & agreements were concluded, Western European governments didn’t have the will or the funds to maintain a presence to control their client states. And the client states didn’t want to be clients, but independent in their own right.

Fromkin draws a parallel between the time it took for Western European government to develop after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire and the time it may take for a "secular" form of government to develop in the Middle East. Stilll chewing on this.

A Killing in the hills of West Virginia

A Killing in the hills by Julia Keller is a good if imperfect first mystery for the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Set in the fictional town of Ackers' Gap, West Virginia, the descriptions of the setting and the lives of the people there are the strength of the book. I'm also intrigued by the protagonists. Belfa (a native of Acker's Gap with her own history & baggage), now divorced, has returned to her hometown with her teenage daughter, Carla, and become the district attorney. She and the sheriff are uncompromising in their fight to eliminate drug traffic in their community.

When Carla is present at the shooting of three old men at a local restaurant, no one has a clue who did it or why.

I don't like mysteries that put you inside of the head of the murderer, and this is one of them. We know from the start who 'dun it and why. I didn't find this character sympathetic at all, I would probably have enjoyed it more if he was drawn with more depth.

Carla's choices were also a bit suspect for me, though she isn't a cardboard character like the killer.

Finally, the reveal of the person responsible for ordering the killing came a bit out of left field. Again, I would have enjoyed it more if this character had been drawn with more depth, showing the pressures that provided the impetus for his involvement.

Drugs, small towns, and lack of financial opportunities are a rich source to draw from. I hope Julie Keller can take the time to create more nuanced villans the next time around