The Suicide of California

Civilizations fail, and then they fall. That is the natural order of things. They fail because their ideas buckle; their discipline withers away; their common culture becomes brittle – an adhesive which no longer binds. Then they fall, a crash heralded at times by a natural calamity which lays bare the rust beneath the glistening façade. An earthquake, a drought, a pandemic. The malinvestment which robs the society of what it needs to weather the common struggles; empathy of common cause sapped by identity politics and the great revenge of the vote.

Seasons after the fall, the ruins take on a haunting beauty. The cadavers of what has been, stripped of the flesh which made them stink and offend and set in our imaginations in a distant time which our nostalgia has polished into grandeur, in the moonlight of passing glow look mighty.

That’s how the California will look, in the future, when the modern madness is stripped of its vitriol and that golden coast will come again remind people from far and wide of the days during which it hosted a great civilization, before it fell away.  

We who have the privilege of travel often look down in satisfaction at the ruins of ancient places. Greece; the Parthenon lit up in blues and greens. The acropolis. The Coliseum in Rome. We walk through the dusty streets of Timbuktu and gaze in wonder at the old mud mosques as we reflect on when these places had energy and purpose. They are not sad musings, for those of us who are tourists. Time has polished over the disaster. Now all that is left are magnificent old buildings that tell a story of when things were remarkable – not of how they quietly fell away. “There was no reason, not really,” we tell each other as we disembark our air-conditioned buses. “These things just happen. Nothing is forever; and nobody is at fault. It’s just the way of the world,” we repeat as we caress our plastic wine glass. Time ebbs and flows, slowly wearing away the foundations of a civilization until it falls in upon itself – at least that’s what we say to comfort ourselves. There’s nothing to do about it. These things can’t be stopped. They just are.

This is what people will say in a hundred years, a thousand years about Los Angeles. Or San Francisco, or San Diego. Those powerful American cities with their refrigerated theme parks and super-highways and skyscrapers and colossal stadiums. When the archeologists of tomorrow dredge the coastal waters of Laguna Beach and find the remains of sunken boats; putting them on display in futuristic museums to tell of the time when this place had hosted a civilization. Ruins of great malls filled with water and crocodiles – maybe the ocean has retaken Sea World, and the octopi have made a dwelling in the ancient aquariums; maybe the cougars that stalk the mountains will have made their abodes in the once-opulent homes of the oligarchs – covering the tiles and marble with the bones of their prey. “There was nothing that could have been done,” the futuristic tourists will also say. “These cities, this place declined – and vanished – it’s the way things go.”

We tourists are wrong.

I know, because I am not only a tourist. I have with the futility of the hopeful tried to stem the tide of suicide in more than one place: Mali and Nigeria and Uganda and Venezuela, places which at one time or another also hosted civilizations, through they are now silent and miserable. I read – Gibbon and Tolstoy and Rand and Kaplan, hoping to make sense of the mayhem, to situate it in the grand narrative of history. Above all, and with the common sense of the domino-watcher, I have catalogued the signs – tribal warfare, groups siphoned of empathy attacking each other on media no-longer social until the online violence no longer satisfies, spilling now onto streets of once-glorious cities where the celebrities walked. It’s California’s turn, and that place is slowly, and very publicly, dying; an act that has spanned more than fifteen years. To watch that extraordinary land, so much at the center of our national imagination, kill itself is not something lightly considered. For civilizational suicide it is not something that happens often; and then never quick, and clean. In ignorance, one presumes it would be fast and brutal and striking – like the Rwandan genocide or Vesuvius covering Pompeii. You expect to see bodies of mothers clutching protectively their young; carbonized by the force or preserved on the glossy side of pictures. But those aren’t the occasions that promote civilizational suicide. After those events societies recover – people recover. They rebuild, they reconcile. They forgive.

No, civilizational suicide is a much longer process – not product of any one moment, one decision. But instead one bad idea, upon another, upon another and another and another and another and the great gears of industry and finance and business begin to grind slower and slower; rust covering their once shiny facades. Revolution, cold and angry. Hate, as a political strategy. Law, used to divide and conquer. Regulation used to punish or worse, the tools of the powerful to raise the ladder as they so rapidly ascend. Elections used to cement privilege and protect the few. Ideology, vitriol served with the hamburgers and poured into the wine and painted across the wooden-floors and manicured fields of the champions – efforts all to recruit and train and deploy an army of insurgents at the behest of those who consider themselves our betters and against anything that would threaten their privilege. Straw-man ideas so delicate, so fragile that all winds of debate must be stopped lest they blow away revealing an unbecoming nakedness of mind.

All this, bleeding out the lifeblood of civilization in drips, filling the buckets of a successive line of activist-bureaucrats before their pet projects are abandoned and their single-issues are discarded, only to be replaced time and again. Directives, parameters, instructions turning into orders – forfeiture to feed the ravenous fairy of unworkable ideas. This is what is remarkable for me about California. In my defense – weak though it may be – I am not Californian. I’m a citizen of the petrified neighbor state, watching in horror as our house prices skyrocket and the flight by the unable-to-manage-any-longer brings the tidal wave of stupidity closer to my home. For we, from the free cities of Tucson and Gilbert and Flagstaff are not land-locked, we are California-locked; fighting the madness as best as we can; our tiny voice, our tiny vote. Yet it is a hard battle to fight. Like Dagny Taggert I have found there is really nothing to push against – it was all a gooey mess of resentment and excuses. “You shouldn’t do that.” They have been told. And again, “That law will not work,” and “what you plan will not bring prosperity – and the only equality you will find will be in the bread line.” And finally “This election that you so desperately prosecute will bring no freedom.” So I watch, powerless, as the suicidal tendencies spread like gangrene down the superhighways, trickling even into the sunny peaceful neighborhood lanes of Gilbert in the form of wealth taxes and re-education committees and street protests the stifling totalitarianism of ‘equality’. In the early morning over coffee I open my computer to document, if only for myself, the apparently bottomless well of nonsense. I chat with my friends, who continue to try and explain to the mindless why their misery is a direct result of one bad idea built upon the last in a great edifice of stupidity. Good men and women who are stuck in a hundred-year-old debate from which there appears to be no escape. I say silent prayers for people in harm’s way – not perhaps at risk of having their heads separated from their shoulders, for the new Robespierres are more cultured than that, more suave and sophisticated. But the end of a job, the bankrupting of a livelihood, the decimation of a reputation – the silencing, that is what the great suicide might be called, quiet and afraid. I look at photographs of places that I knew – streets down which I have sauntered or restaurants that I frequented; covered in garbage or boarded up and stinking having been burned out by the latest in the long line of culture warriors and their vandalism. I watch the videos of the nightly sacking of supermarkets, gun battles raging in cities which once hosted fancy nightclubs – men masked now, disease proffering a perfect anonymity. The fall of our bronze men – for the murder of our past is not subject to censure.  

Tonight the fires burn, product of those who think that nature requires no management, that ideology has no repercussions. Whole villages of vulnerable, in Africa we would call them ‘camps’ have sprung up between the millenarian mansions of the oligarchs in Malibu or down the storied walks of Hollywood, emptiness in the eyes of people eaten away by drugs and despair in a place that forever had been the land of opportunity. Like the Starnesville of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, the motive power of the state was voted away by that ancient lie “To each according to their need, from each according to their ability.” They blame the weather – the culture-warriors do – like the tribal shamans of old who made sacrifices to the gods in the hopes of an intervention. There is no electricity, and they have ‘blackout hours’ on the hottest days, telling people to cool off in the yard with the hose. Except there is no water to catch the breeze, much less fight the fires burning out of control. They tell the people to hold on, that another stimulus is coming as they appeal to Washington for the ever-greater handouts and bailouts, charity from more prosperous lands who still see reason. Quietly, then loudly, then quietly again darkness falls over a feral land. The marathon of destruction is well advanced; the lifeblood of that beautiful civilization is chasing the gangrene to Colorado and Arizona and Nevada, leaving only the camps and the activists-warriors beneath the great abandoned buildings which once hosted Ronald Reagan. No, there is nothing heroic or epic here; ruins in the making are sad affairs – bereft of the comforting mantle of time which lends intrigue and inevitability. And watching it has, for me, been one of life’s great tragedies.

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The Sadness of Hong Kong

“You need to visit Hong Kong” my parents would say. They were wont to go there; a waystop between the obsidian totalitarianism of Harbin and the nihilistic desperation of Nagasaki before heading into the ancient rotting darkness of Irian Jaya. “You should go there, before its too late.”

Because my parents knew about China, and they understood that the Middle Kingdom could not allow something so glorious, so precious and precarious – a half-opened clam pearl dangling on the edge of an underwater abyss – no that could never be allowed to last. It is too much of an affront – one country, they say, two systems – as if that could ever be tolerated. For if it were so, like osmosis, why wouldn’t Hong Kong fill up, or worse contaminate the rest of the backward empire of Uighur-hair rugs and underground organ-extraction tubs with that tantalizing scent of possibility. Possibility, options, choices – those are the great testament against which it is difficult to oppress.

“You should go to Hong Kong!” but I never did – I always thought there would be a tomorrow, a day after tomorrow and I continued on my own affairs. But the day after arrived, catching us all unawares. But not the umbrella kids – they knew this fight was their last.

I once wrote a play. It actually started out as a short article while I was 30,000 feet over the Atlantic and I was bored wading through the detritus of un-examined minds on the little screen before me, so I pulled out my laptop and I wrote. One sentence, another, and another and still another; page after page of pure dialogue until I realized with surprise and some consternation that I had a play. Now what was I to do? Give it a title I suppose, a play with no title – written for the future – “Dreams of the Defeated”, for the umbrella kids, it turned out.

The play is about a movement, a September 7th movement it was called which dared to challenge their despotic overlords. And how they were destined to fail. How their dreams were not only ephemeral, but were in fact themselves tools of the regime to exert control. I published it, sent it to a few friends, a few people who follow with sadness the North Korea cricket-eaters or Hong Kong umbrella-kids or Cuba’s doctor-slaves. But it was never performed – is a play that has never been performed in a theater in fact a play? Probably not. But who would perform such a play?

Certainly not the unexamined minds – plays are boring, too many words – not enough blowing up. And September 7th? The defeated children of the oligarchs? Their dalliance with what could come, what might be? As they say in Venezuela “con que se come eso” (what do you eat that with?) I just finished reading William Saroyan’s play “My Heart’s In The Highlands”; and was amused to find that in an act of wicked contempt he had printed at the end of the 1939 copy which I purchased used for a few dollars all the bad reviews received from – you got it – Newsweek, New York Times, mind which it turns out have been unexamined for 80 years. I suppose I don’t feel so bad, in that case, except at least Saroyan was worthy of a bad review. They’ve learned, the blank minds have, better yet – no bad review, for controversy stokes debate and discord. No, a collective gaping yawn. A pearl that was never known, not a “I wonder what Hong Kong was like” but instead “Who the hell has ever heard of ‘Dreams of the Defeated’?”

And that is sad – but not as sad as the millions seeking refuge in Canberra and London and New York. Without knowing somebody told their story, even before they lived it – for to be born defeated holds no shame, but only if you dream.

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Discovering A Great Voice

There is nothing more extraordinary, more exhilarating than the discovery of a great voice. A singular talent tucked away and unsung except for those who know, and those who search to fill that space within their souls that only is filled by beautiful things.

William Saroyan is one such character. His writing is good in the way of an amazing meal or a fine wine. Not like going to a prestigious restaurant in Paris inside the ring to pay five hundred Euro for the privilege of being able to agree with your betters when they say “ah but the truffles in XXXX” to which you say knowingly “yes, but nothing like their foie gras“, choking down the tiny portions with vinegary wine of the right year. No, William Saroyan is like the nourishment of the time I was wandering through Buenos Aires when a hunger came upon me, and I slipped through an unmarked door following an old man in a worn-out vest and beret smoking a cigarette to sit at a solid wood table while the waiter expertly brought out a milanesa with mashed-potatoes and a carafe of the day’s wine, eaten heartily and quietly but with extraordinary satisfaction under a television showing the local soccer game muted to allow for the grissled guitar player in the corner strumming something by Mercedes Sosa.

That’s what reading William Saroyan is like.

I just finished “The Man With The Heart In The Highlands” which is a collection of Saroyan’s short stories. I couldn’t put it down; each story witty but overflowing with charm and wisdom and humanity. Saroyan is an Armenian American; his family arriving in California along with so many others fleeing the mayhem and violence of genocide in the “old country”. I think this is what makes his writing so extraordinary. English was his first language, his native tongue (if not his ‘mother tongue’, which I’m guessing was Armenian) – and so he wrote in English giving his stories the fluidity which translated works don’t have. But with that, he also brings the millenarian story of the “old country” into his perspectives and his imagination. He writes about fresh things, as America was 100 years ago, from the perspective of a five-thousand year old civilization. That is what makes it extraordinary – to capture the opportunity of America as it was in the ’30s, with the gratitude of somebody whose family had fled great trauma, but with the understanding of wisdom which is brought only by a connection to the past in waves and waves. This is what much American writing lacks – the United States having become un-moored from history at first willfully and now (in 2020) contemptuously.

Please, I entreat you – read Saroyan. You will probably find yourself connecting with the American story in ways you never thought imaginable, and that is important. You will be taught, from the eyes of a grateful immigrant, a refugee from great tribulation, of the freshness of opportunity juxtaposed against the sorrow of the “old country”. And that will make you thoughtful, which is – above all else – the most important thing, especially during this the year of our discontent.

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On 9/11

Remains true, so long as we remain optimistic:

“We are sometimes naïve in our goodness – Americans are. It’s part of the nature of our life lived in a free society; part of our ‘social contract’ in which we each seek out our own self-interest through hard work and discipline and thrift, understanding that the true meaning of freedom is freedom from our vices and our own raging passions; and in that understanding we reap a bounty that has spilled over to build the greatest society the world has ever known. Not by invasions, pillaging and theft; but the tremendous abundance of productively free men giving back through their love of themselves, their country and each other.”

Read the whole thing here.

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Soviet Short Stories

There are few like the great Russian masters. Perhaps its the harsh winters that encourage contemplation; maybe its the beauty of the Russian language itself, with its depth of tenses and tremendous descriptive power that encourages people to put ideas, feelings into words. Maybe its the dreary light, with bursts of tremendous beauty along the basin of the Don or the Kuban or into the Caucasus where valleys meet vicious gorges through which march the darkened forests of the past that beckon to the writer to pull out a pen or a plume or a rickety old typewriter and try to find a way to express what they are feeling. Whatever it is, it just works.

The Soviet period was no exception. Artists are naturally utopian, seeing beyond the next hill at what could be and attempting to find a way through the malaise of the humdrum to show others their bright vision. The Soviet Union, utopian by design, was a natural home for artists (until Stalin had them all murdered). But they did return, the dreamers proud of their silent seas and their tragic millenarian story, holding their homeland in the center of their imaginations – painting and poetry and prose as a natural response to their love of the land.

We in the west have a fascination with Russia. Communism and our epic fight against that vast slave empire. We who are flailing about in the desperate hunt for victims to give meaning to our opulence might well look east, to the greatest gulag in history and its two-hundred million victims. But that would require certain admissions that the utopians in our own midst would rather not recognize. But I digress.

The Soviet Union encouraged people to write – as long as their writing was not an act of resistance. To a certain extent, this made their literature much better. Unburdened by (in fact forbidden from) using their tremendous talent in the partisan political search for point-scoring, they were ‘free’ (or unfree, as it were) to explore the issues which have occupied the great Russian writers from time imemorial – love and land in times of tribulation. And this is where the Russians excel. Of course, I use the term “Russian” interchangeably with “Soviet” for the western reader, and for that I must be forgiven. Because to forget the Ingushetian theologians; the Armenian poets; the Georgian mythologists; and the great Ukrainian novelists – to lump them all together, is almost a crime.

Soviet Short Stories is a magazine published by the dictatorship as part of their efforts of making the case that their utopia was coming along nicely; and giving people something else to do to take their minds off their bondage. That does not take from its power, it only adds to it – for great art comes from great tribulation. And there has been no greater tribulation than communism.

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As 2020 Unravels, Grab a Book…

As this year unravels, as the stories of tragedy and mayhem stack themselves up one atop the other in the cementing pressure of misery which we will carry with us, oh probably forever, I was thinking about the last 15 years – my travels, my travails, and my writings. I have always wandered and worked the lost places – places on the fringes, entropy eating away at the possibilities of tomorrow. And slowly, I’ve seen as the gangrene crawls up the appendages to the epicenter, places I thought safe. My novels reflect this – and their protagonists’ stories, I’ve noticed, never end well. How could they, those who dwell in the peripheries. So, if you haven’t already, join me – my work, my travels, my wanderings — my life. What cost me trials and tribulations and heartache would only cost you a few cents, a few dollars. To live vicariously the lives of those who fought the mayhem, its what I have written for. Without further ado…


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Explore the attempt of a few tireless adventurers to find a place safe for themselves, General Ulises Harrington and his efforts to see the subterfuge extended, to safeguard civilization for the future, and how (and why) he ultimately fails.


Charles Agwok was born in a refugee camp in Uganda. With few choices for the future, his only option was an anonymous existence fading away under the African sun, or a life of crime. A life which led him to that of a soldier, a commander and a warlord in the Lord’s Resistance Army. But that life brought no freedom; and escape? Back to the camps.


Aliuf Ag Albachar was born a Tuareg, from the lost desert lands of the Sahara. He did not want to become a jihadi, not really. A thoughtful, smart lad born of nobility. But a chance encounter with a young Fulani boy, a trip to Marrakesh sees him become a Qadi, an islamic judge and a final arbiter of sharia in occupied Timbuktu. Until something infinitely worse came along, and he discovered that meaning can be found, even kneeling upon the hard sand of Sankore Place at the end of it all.


In the San Porfirio series, Pancho – a young Venezuelan activist looking for a life in liberty runs afoul of the socialists, and ends up in prison where – for years – he contemplates the disaster raging around him. Released to wander the wasteland, he can only look for his old friend, along paths dark and long abandoned in the hope of finding meaning and answers to the violence. Answers he does find, in the end, after the violence burns itself out.


In this, my first play a political prisoner – leader of the September 7th movement – goes on trial before the judges of a totalitarian state determined to quash any resistance. In his final defense, he gives the reasons why – though he was a prisoner – he was also an accomplice and artifice of his own destruction.


I don’t think I meant to make all my stories be that of resistance, sadness and ultimate defeat. But, as good writers are told – write what you know… and more importantly, write who you are

So, pick up a copy. Pour a glass of wine, or a cold beer or a hot green tea, sit in your favorite chair and give me a chance to enthrall you!! Besides, what else do you have to do, locked down in our homes as our terrible 2020 unravels…

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“Out of Africa” – A Book Review

I once said I would write more of Africa. I have found it hard to keep that promise. I lived upon that continent for a decade, in Central, East and also West Africa – working the civil wars that ravage the landscape and brutalize the people as power-hungry men with no care for their legacy or their community pretend to omnipotence. I have been gone now for more than a year, the dark continent’s scarred landscape and ravaged villages now firmly set in my rear-view mirror; and I have waited for nostalgia, which is a purification process wiping the experiences clean, sanitizing them to set them upon the mantle of our imaginations as beautiful reminders of what has been. But that nostalgia has not come.

I picked up “Out of Africa” in the hopes that this famous story of colonial Kenya would jog my memory, reminding me of what was and returning me to the glory days of my twenties and thirties when I fought the wars in Africa (oh not literally, I was seeking to end them, not perpetuate them – so I worked using tools of the human condition to attempt to animate and inspire lasting peace. Mostly I failed). And to be sure there is something; the powerful rains that sweep across the landscape; the silence of it all, even now in the days of information but especially then when there were no sounds but the village feasts late into the night after slaughtering a cow. The drums banging and reverberating in an eerie echo from the mysterious mountains above. But it is the sadness I can no longer abide – the desperation at a land with no hope.

And therein lies the rub. Africa never made it; that transition between tribal and modern; that move from empire to government by-and-for the people; the modernization of the economies that took most other regions of the world from small farms and watching the cows at night, to mass-produced widgets and on to a service economy. The pattern of ‘development’ which COVID has laid bare as wanting, leaving however the west wealthy enough to debate universal basic income as the leaders realize the workers are no longer needed, paid for by fiat money as the last refuge of hope in a hopeless world. No, Africa has stayed behind, with her wars and her ‘development programs’ and her small-farmer plots upon which the desperately destitute attempt to coax a maize shoot from a desiccated earth, trucking water and the tiny minnows from an overfished nearby lake drying and stinking before simply retreating to the camps – my main experience of Africa was the camps.

And this is a problem – for demographically, the world is changing. By the time my son is an old man, the world population will have peaked and receded – we will be 8 billion souls, most of them old — except 4 billion will live in Africa (along with the lion’s share of working young), where the wars will probably still burn.

Out of Africa” is a book by Isak Dinesen about the experience of a European farmer in colonial Kenya – how she experienced the continent, her impressions of things she saw so foreign to a woman living 100 years ago that she had no frame of reference upon which to hang them. But she came to love Africa, in that tragic way that I suppose I too still love Africa – sort of an open wound in your soul when something reminds you of it, a movie or a book, and you grimace a little bit. “I once had a farm in Africa…” is how the novel starts. I think that says it all.

Incidentally, my “Out of Africa” novel is “I, Charles, From the Camps”. Dinesen’s is about the colony, mine is about what happened after all the Europeans left.

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Our Summer of ’20

Summer is winding down. The weather is beginning to cool off, at least in some places, and “Back To School” season is upon us. Book-bags and binders and lunch-bags. And face-masks – for though summer is over, the strangeness of this year does abide.

It’s always hard to live in the present. Concerns of daily life piled around us like the refuse beside a fast-moving highway, over which it is sometimes difficult to see. COVID slowed us down a little bit, but maybe stacked the detritus higher. Yet as circumstances and situations move into the rear view mirror, our minds scrub them and clean them and remove the unwanted rubble. This purification process is called nostalgia; and we can determine just how powerful were the moments through which we lived by how quickly our consciousness completes this process, setting the finished product on display forever in our imaginations.

For me, for the summer of ’20, this process is already well advanced. Because this was the summer of my little boy. He’s just of the right age, old enough to be clever and fun and creative but not too old that I am yet annoying – that he would rather ‘hang’ with his friends. Ours was a summer without distractions – there was no Disney, no trips to Dubai or Sharm to swim with the dolphins. No camps of any kind; few friends – for all are nervous this year and our already-scripted playtimes are ever-so-much-more-so in times of COVID.

So we filled our summer with each other. Hiking the storied Caucasian mountains; throwing rocks in lakes; looking for frogs in ponds; making dams in cold mountain streams; traipsing through ancient castles and meandering upon the ancient silk road and up into monasteries full of the reminders of days gone by which also experienced monumental events, and still the stones reverberate with the tales. Our summer of soccer, and Lego castles – of water fights and home-made pizza. Lord of the Rings (the books, and then the movie – as a reward, the old cartoons telling the story as it should be told). Star Wars, the trilogy – the real trilogy, not whatever Disney is up to these days. Reading books at night, and devotions before bed as we explore the greatness of God in a world that has decided He is too much of an inconvenience to be considered. Until a pandemic wipes away our hubris – and people remember that there are no utopias absent the preserving power of God upon the soul.

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2020 will fade into the past, the pandemic will be a part of our history books and the stories we tell each other “Remember that troubled summer of 2020?” Life will go on, the ancient places and our enduring faith remind us of that – the world will re-order itself and whether we are Jefferson declaring with optimism “We hold these truths to be self-evident” or St. Augustine lamenting in “City of God” the end of empire, that will not change the fact that each of us must live our lives, nor does it affect the transcendence we find in the goodness of family and in the care-free peals of laughter of my little boy.

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The Unraveling

Introducing my 5th novel, “The Unraveling”. As I endeavor to make new acts of creation with each one, this book – which took me 4 years to write – is by far perhaps the most literary; and it feels like I wrote it for this moment in time. I invite you to journey with me and my intrepid band of wanderers looking for peace in a world gone mad.


“When President Ebenezer Fudge unleashes the Frosting, it is but one more indignity inflicted on a terminally ailing world. War, famine and disease have ravaged entire continents. Controlled and exploited by fractured governments, opportunistic politicians and shadowy corporations, once-prosperous societies languish in a welter of failed hopes and shattered ideals. Across this benighted landscape wanders a cast of refugees, set adrift from their homes by one calamity or another and united only in a forlorn hope of something better.

To their ears come rumors of a place somewhere far off across the sea, a sanctuary of sorts where life is lived according to law in the halcyon glow of bygone days. In this last bastion of civilization music still plays, literature and the arts, extinguished elsewhere, continued to flourish, and bounty is coaxed from rejuvenated hillsides and fields. Yet even this utopia is in danger, riven from within by moral questions and threatened from without by a greedy world.

In dense, richly layered prose, this novel tells the story of a future not far removed from the here and now. The Unraveling speaks lucidly and forthrightly about events that are taking place before our eyes. It is insightful, thought-provoking and frighteningly prescient.”

Available at Barnes and Noble. (e-book and paperback coming soon)

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A Novel about the Maghreb

It’s hard, for those who have not experienced it, to imagine the desolation of the Sahara. The great sand sea, the size of America, where only the Tuareg ride. Even to this day the vastness is daunting, but 80 years ago – during the days of French colonialism, when the sands were policed for the west by the French Foreign Legion – it was truly a bizarre and alien place.

Marrakech 022 “The Sheltering Sky” captures the starkness with beauty and elegance and a certain nostalgia for the past. The quiet mud-walled cities high and defended by the Berbers, from whence came the word ‘barbarian’, unfairly of course for they and their deep-desert cousins, the Tuareg, were riding the sand seas long before the ‘west’ came into existence. Isn’t Tifinagh, the Tamashek (Tuareg) alphabet even from 2000 B.C., said to be linked with Phoenician from the days when the Tuareg trafficked slaves, salt and gold north from the dark lands and spices and weapons south from the trading ports of the Maghreb?

I’ve always loved the Sahara and its northern fringes, sand lapping up against the sea. I’ve even been to Timbuktu, I’ve seen the ancient Sankore Place which 700 years ago hosted a university of more than 20,000 people. I’ve walked through Djenne mosque, the largest mud building in the world. I’ve toured the ancient libraries where wisdom pre-dates the modern west, translations of Aristotle jockeying for position with Islamic poetry. I’ve conversed with the Songhai Imams of Djineberger mosque, a lineage as important as royalty. And on the other side, I’ve sauntered through the Medina of Marrakesh and sat in silent contemplation at the slightly listing Mosque of the Booksellers from the days when the Almoravids and Almohads held their own Berber empire that reached all the way north into Cordoba, south to Timbuktu and east to Egypt.

“The Sheltering Sky” is a story about the Berber Maghreb, though the author consistently calls them Arabs. Perhaps because of their language, or their religion, or the fact that their kings often claim the lineage of the Prophet. It is about the oasis towns. It is about the desert and the water; the heat and the sun – it is a story about three wayward travelers from America who are seeking something exotic, to somehow find themselves in a place that is so alien that it reinforces within themselves what is theirs and theirs alone.

It is a story, also, about disease. The diseases that still plague the Maghreb, typhus and malaria and meningitis. But also about a greater disease still, that of madness – a madness that consumes, that is encouraged by the vast desolate open spaces where the djinn remind us that we are not in control. For those who have been in that area of the world, this book will resonate with you as you re-experience the loneliness. For those who have not, and travel there is hard these days as the region descends again into anarchy and the jihads that have so often rolled across the sands like waves, at least you will through this extraordinary novel experience vicariously what it must be like.

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