Fab Four Book Picks

Book reviews by the Fab Four and our Fab Friends

Friday, November 17, 2006

Review of Scimitar's Edge, plus interview with Author Marvin Olasky

courtesy of Glass Road Publications

"Stepping away from his roles as professor, historian, and creator of "compassionate conservatism," Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of WORLD Magazine has penned an edge-of-your-seat novel that educates as well as it informs. "

"SCIMITAR'S EDGE is the story of four unique Americans on a journey that takes them to a world of great beauty and great danger. Olasky uses his vast knowledge of the culture to pen a tale about the War on Terror that is so realistic it might have been taken from today's headlines. "

--Kathleen at GRP--


1. What's the book about?

MO: At its basic level it's about Americans who go to Turkey for a vacation -- I spent a month there two years ago -- and are kidnapped by Turkish Hezbollah; the question then is how to get away and whether to forget about the whole thing or attempt to fight back. In another sense Scimitar's Edge is about America and the war against terrorism: Now that it's almost five years since 9/11 many of us almost seem to be on vacation again, but the terrorists are not.

2. You're a journalist and professor by trade, with about 18 non-fiction books in your past. What led you to turn to fiction?

Largely fun. In one sense I was playing SIM Turkey: Drop four people into a harsh foreign environment, give them action and adventure, build a romance … I grew to like the characters and wanted to see what they would do. I also enjoyed the challenge: I've written lots of nonfiction books and know how to do that, but this was all new.

3. Is your research for fiction different from your nonfiction research?

The trunk is common - as I traveled through Turkey I took notes on geography, food, customs, and so forth - but the branches differ. My nonfiction research emphasizes accuracy concerning what has happened; for example, every quotation has to be exactly what a person said. In fiction, though, I'm inventing dialogue, yet everything that happens has to be true to the characters and the situation.

4. What's been the feedback from your fans since your switch to fiction?

Oh, are there fans? Actually, I've gotten excellent reactions from many of the folks who like my nonfiction. A few worry about sexual allusions - one of the characters is a serial adulterer and two of the others, as they fall in love, encounter sexual tension. Scimitar's Edge is also an action/adventure novel so there's some shooting, and one of the main characters is a terrorist who relishes lopping off heads. So anyone who wants a sugary book should look elsewhere.

5. You also include some descriptions of what's been called ”the forgotten holocaust” a century ago, and explain some Turkish history.

Turkey was the proving ground for the first sustained governmental attempt at genocide, as Turks killed over one million Armenians and sent many to concentration camps; Hitler admired that effort. But Turkey has often been a central player in world affairs, not a backwater. Nearly two millennia ago Turkey became a Christian stronghold: The seven churches John addresses in the book of Revelation, for example, were in what is now Western Turkey. Going back one millennium, what is now Turkey was the front line for a clash of Christian and Muslim cultures.

6. I know you wrote your doctoral dissertation about film and politics from the 1930s through the 1960s, a time when Westerns were one of the dominant genres, and I see certain Western-like elements in this book.

Westerns came in about seven different varieties, and one of them was called the “revenge Western,” where a bad man has killed a beloved person and the hero heads out to bring him to justice. In nuanced Westerns the hero at various points asks himself whether his end justifies his means and whether it's worth giving up a lot to carry out what he planned. An internal struggle of that sort occurs in this book as well.

7. Scimitar's Edge is an unusual novel that combines action against terrorists with quotations from Walker Percy. In fact, the book ends with an allusion to one of Percy's most enduring characters, Will Barrett. Were you consciously trying to walk a knife-edge between high-brow and low-brow culture?

Not consciously; that's just where I am myself. Since evangelicals are sometimes disparaged as dumb, some press to show we're not by tossing around Latin phrases or going to opera rather than popular movies -- not that there's anything wrong with opera, as long as there's a car chase within the first five minutes. To me it comes down to enjoying the pleasures God gives us, including those from both popular culture and literary culture.

8. Are you planning a sequel?

When I talk with students about careers we discuss the importance of both internal calling and external calling - do you feel God's pleasure as you do something, and do other people think you're good at it? I feel the internal call to write more novels; I'm trying to discern the external call from readers.

Author's bio:
Dr. Olasky is editor-in-chief of World Magazine, a senior fellow of the Acton Institute, and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife Susan have been married for 30 years and have four sons. He has written 17 non-fiction books and has also started (with several others) a Christian school; he has been a crisis pregnancy center chairman, a foster parent, a Little League assistant coach, a PTA president, and an informal advisor to George W. Bush. He is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan.


Marvin Olasky's SCIMITAR'S EDGE is a book that will haunt me, but that's a good thing. Complex characters and edge of the seat suspense moved this book along for me in just a couple of hours. Some may consider the images in which the author paints in this story graphic, but I thought they were pretty mild in comparison for what could actually go on behind the scenes of four people kidnapped by Hezbollah terrorists.

I would have liked to have gotten into Phoebe's head a bit more, and I also wonder if the book may have been more powerful with a more limited POV. It jumped around quite a bit, which didn't really bother me except a few areas where the author could have kept us in a particular POV a little longer before flipping to another character. This constant switching made me feel a bit detached from the characters, yet the book was riviting enough that it didn't matter. At times the story seemed too rushed, like the author was running out of word count and had to tell instead of show.

That said, the areas he did show...very powerful writing. I found myself today unable to stop thinking about this book and these characters. I'm hoping for a continuation. Though there was a bit of gore and death, I thought it appropriate for the plot and tactfully written, and the book had a satisfying ending. The characters seemed real and without spoiling the story, I have to say that one scene in particular made this book worth reading. I LOVED THAT PART. I don't want to spoil it for you, so I will just say two words. Fatima's rock. When you go out and get this book (and I hope you do), you will know what I'm talking about.

Each character was distinct and multi-faceted, and I didn't think the sexual tension was over the top, just realistic and true to character. The realism was refreshing actually from books which tend to tone down that sort of thing to the point the characters seem too perfect to be believable. I thought this was well-executed and showed the pull of sin in Malcolm and his consequence for his choices.

Being a die-hard romance novel fan, I loved the thread of Hal and Sally prancing through this story.

I also loved how the author executed (no pun intended) one of the character's passing. I read that part over and over because of the way Marvin sequenced that. Again, since I don't want to spoil it for you, I will just say that it begins with the paragraph "[certain character] saw a flicker in Sulleyman's eyes...and goes on into the next paragraph, which starts, "But Hal and Sally saw none of that. . ."

Talk about chills.

The book was raw, the characters real, the story gritty. I felt their external struggle more than their internal struggles. The sensory description was simple but effective in putting me there. The faith element woven mostly through Phoebe and the impact the things she did and said had on the lives of the other characters will make this book memorable for a long time to come. I hope this author will continue to venture out into fiction as I'll be eagerly awaiting his next work.



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