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Season of Betrayal
By Margaret Lowrie Robertson
Margaret Lowrie Robertson's recently published novel Season of Betrayal, a story of adultery and war in early 1980s Beirut, is unwittingly relevant considering the events of this past summer and Lebanon's growing political unrest following the recent assassination of Christian leader Pierre Gemayel.
While Lebanese citizens nervously wait to see whether their country can overcome this sectarian fighting, Robertson's story provides the perfect backdrop for those with little knowledge of the region's complicated struggle. Through her main character Lara McCauley, Robertson documents some high-profile historic events from one of the lowest points in Lebanon's modern history and blends it together well with Lara's fictional story.
In crisp prose, she brings up the names of some of the country's more powerful players and their families who are still around today: "...I still remember the men who pulled the strings in Lebanon's politics in 1983, who controlled its streets and its gunmen. They formed a roll call central to my daily well-being: Gemayel, Jumblatt, Berri, Karami, Fenjiyeh - and in the background, the growing sinister influence of Sheik Mohammed Fadlallah, from Hezbollah."
And she describes in detail what she calls, "an alphabet soup of warriors - PSP, PLO, DFLP, PFLP - multi-strands of fighters plaited together by guns and money and the hatred inherent in longstanding rivalries."
Robertson - herself a seasoned reporter for a variety of reputable media outlets - spent a year in Beirut between 1984-85, though she sets the escapades of the initially timid, American-born Lara a year or two earlier than her own experiences.
Lara's unraveling relationship with her husband, hot-shot reporter Anthony "Mac" McCauley, mirrors the country's unsettling politics and violent episodes during that time period. Robertson uses the shaky marriage as the launch pad for a series of events that eventually embroil Lara's personal life in the conflict around her.
WHILE HER presentation of fact and fiction in the novel is well-balanced and thoroughly detailed, Robertson is perhaps a little overdramatic in drawing conclusions that certain incidents in Beirut during that period formed a direct catalyst for the growth in international terrorism that the world has witnessed in recent years.
"I think it is fair to say 1983 was a watershed year in international terrorism. Not because that's when it became my reality, but because so many around the world died in terrorist attacks. The marine bombing stood alone in terms of scale and its impact on foreign policy, but it was book-ended by a series of violent events," notes Lara less than halfway through the book.
While those unfamiliar with Middle Eastern politics might take Robertson's comments at face value, those who are more aware of the regional conflicts will automatically be able to recall the hundreds of terrorist attacks that happened prior to the 1980s, especially in Israel. And those who are well versed in Islamic fundamentalist culture will most likely disagree with Robertson's analysis here.
That said, Robertson uses foolhardy prose - "No mere drumbeat of war, this was life inside the timpani itself" - to describe some of the horrors Lara witnesses during her stay in Beirut. And she realistically portrays the warmth of camaraderie at the city's renowned Commodore Hotel, which formed the "unofficial headquarters of the Beirut press corps," and provides the backdrop to many of Lara's escapades.
Robertson uses one of those comrades - well-connected and informed Polish correspondent Thomas Warkowski - to nudge Lara through her personal transformation in Lebanon, and he is the one to eventually cause her downfall.
"Thomas knew a lot," reveals Lara in one of the early chapters. "But it seems he forgot the basic law of nature articulated by Newton, that to every action, there is always an opposite and equal reaction. And this would rebound on him, for Lebanon was an unforgiving place. There were no false steps, only fatal ones. Thomas would tap into forces he couldn't control, with the result that he would become part of the history of the place itself."
While it takes Robertson almost a quarter of the book to really kick-start her story, the wait is worthwhile and Lara's personal story is both believable and engaging. And despite the bombardment of historical facts, Season of Betrayal is an enlightening read for anyone who wants to understand a little better the complicated politics of this schizophrenic nation.
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