Dynamite Fishermen, By: Preston Fleming – Book Review

In Dynamite Fishermen, set in Beirut, Lebanon in the early 1980’s, Preston Fleming depicts heedless violence as a way of life, as seen from the perspective of an American intelligence officer and his local contacts. The few months in the story fall during somewhat of a lull in the long running Lebanese civil war; a period plagued by almost daily car bombings, civilian shootings, artillery attacks and other mayhem just short of outright warfare. Some of the bloody civil war is in the past, but much of the turmoil throughout the Arab world, albeit foreshadowed, is still yet to come in the future.

For a work of fiction, the story reads much like a history book. The complexities of the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict, and the inter-Arab conflicts, play out in small clashes throughout Beirut. The Muslim, Christian, and secular Lebanese coexist in a strange dance of sometimes tolerance and sometimes violence toward each other. The masses of displaced Palestinians in Lebanon are determined foes of Israel, while acting in a phase that tends to look for solutions, but the seeds of renewed violence are beginning to flourish. The war between Iran and Iraq is at its beginning. Syria exerts constant pressure against Lebanon, and Israel is in conflict with everybody. All of them are active in Lebanon, making it a microcosm of the entire Middle East.

Conrad Prosser is the central observer in this drama. As an American intelligence agent, knowledgeable in Arabic language and culture, his routine in the face of chaos is to meet with his local contacts and glean whatever news will help to analyze the dynamics of the overlapping conflicts. The clues to the future are in his reports, but the actual future cannot be reliably predicted. Prosser meets with his various information sources, and each meeting exposes the random violence of moving about in Beirut. Except for traditional exuberant gunfire, the violence usually means something to somebody, and it is Prosser’s job to sort out the factions and their goals. His constant exposure to violence has left him with a fatalistic attitude of relying on statistics for survival, because there is really nothing that anybody can do in Beirut to actually be safe.

Prosser’s relationships with his sources are out of necessity impersonal, despite the cultural facade of brotherhood. Any one of his sources is likely to be a target for retaliation, if the information provided leads to some kind of intervention or counter-action. His relationships with women are no better. Ultimately, he has no real purpose except to survive and do his job, and the women in his life invariably become involved in some way with his work.

It is hard to identify the plot in Dynamite Fishermen. In the end, the answer seems to be there are many threads which need to be woven in the reader’s mind. Prosser survives assassination attempts, gathers volumes of information, witnesses the downfall of many of his sources, as well as the disruption of some of the opposing factions; but the violence continued as though none of it mattered. The reader, aware of the coming Middle Eastern conflicts, can see the evidence in Prosser’s reports, but the actual future is hidden from the participants in the book. In the end, Prosser compares his efforts to the methods of the local fishermen, who explode dynamite underwater to kill huge numbers of fish, yet are able to gather only a few of the fish to sell in the market. The results of Prosser’s work seem to him to be equally as sparse in comparison to the human costs. The book paints a picture of politics and private agendas that will be interesting to readers who follow the convoluted conflicts of the Middle East.

As much of the details of this conflict reverberate in today’s issues, the novel aspect of the characters juxtaposed within the factual events provide a memorable story to the fictional people which have shaped history, and have provided direction to world peace, or lack thereof. Intelligently written with details foreign to many, the place and time history has created is shaped as a backdrop to the characters’ lives, culminating in a compelling page-turner and a memorable story.

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Source by Gary R. Sorkin

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