Quill of the Dove by Ian Thomas Shaw
Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
The Middle East is an extreme of everything and thus fertile ground for thriller writers: a rich and varied history, current political chaos, violence on every level, religious strife, tribal factions galore, and everywhere really bad guys who would be barely credible in fiction but for the fact that they pepper the evening news almost every day. There is a catch, though, and that is it is very hard to keep all of the political, ethnic and religious issues straight. Most authors try to keep their plot lines as simple as possible to avoid getting inextricably bogged down in the convoluted details of local reality. But by doing so, they tend to oversimplify, even ignore, the overwhelming complexity that burdens the daily lives of those who live there.
So it is very uncommon to find an author who not only sets his story in the Middle East but who can both keep the facts straight and also avoid turning individuals and regional populations into two-dimensional caricatures. Ian Shaw is one of those rare authors. Having served as a Canadian diplomat and aid worker in the Middle East for several years, he knows the land and people well and has a firm grip on hills and valleys, swamps and jungles of the political topography as well.
In Quill of the Dove, Shaw jumps right into two of the messiest conflicts the Middle East has seen: the Lebanese Civil War and the inextricably linked Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Alternating between 2007 and the years 1975 to 1982, Shaw tells two related stories. The first is about the efforts of Marie Boivin, a Canadian journalist, to determine whether renowned French journalist Marc Taragon is her real father, and the other is about the love affair between Taragon and a Palestinian woman, Hoda ‘Akkawi, in Lebanon during the late 1970s.
In 2007, Taragon is a prime mover of an ambitious and as yet clandestine effort to create a path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Marie Boivin tags along as he secretly crisscrosses Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, Spain, and Israel, always trying to stay ahead of the Mossad agents who want to stop him and the two other men who form the rest of the effort’s team, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Flashbacks to the Lebanon Civil War flesh out the histories of each man as the then budding journalist Taragon establishes his reputation amid the sectarian violence in Lebanon and Syria.
Shaw shows the loss and tragedy together with the vengefulness and bloodletting that affect and are committed by all sides. This humanizes the story, and he is successful in illustrating the grand scale of events through smaller, more personal incidents of confrontation and suffering. There is also an undercurrent of the issue of identity. Marc is a child of a couple who fled Franco’s Spain for France. But they were also descended from conversos, Jews who converted to Catholicism to avoid the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition. Hoda is a Palestinian in Lebanon, people who are largely rejected by the locals. Marie doesn’t know her origins and is searching to discover the truth about her birth.
So, like the Middle East itself, Quill of the Dove is a complex mix of themes and issues. None is neatly resolved, but all are given their due. This is a read to reflect upon. It will surely stimulate both more reading and the urgent hope that characters like these exist in real life.
Quill of the Dove is a bold tale of courageous ideals in pursuit of peace and human dignity. Published by Guernica Editions' MiroLand imprint, it will be launched in early 2019.