From veteran war reporter and novelist Scott Anderson comes an utterly authentic depiction of the unintended consequences of American empire--a novel rich in intrigue, romance, and dark humor.
David Richards is a mid-level diplomat assigned to the sleepy Middle Eastern kingdom of Kutar. Richards spends his days monitoring small development projects and his nights attending embassy cocktail parties and bedding various visiting American women and diplomats' wives.
The time is the early 1980s, when the American Empire has begun to tentatively flex its muscles once again. Kutar is a diplomatic backwater, a former British colony, barely a blip on the State Department's radar back in Washington. For centuries desultory tribal conflict has flared sporadically in the arid hills hundreds of miles from the coastal capital of Laradan, and as the book opens rumors of a new skirmish there reach the city's inhabitants. As always, the residents of Laradan ignore the stories, but this time something is different: The Americans decide to do something about it.
As any casual student of geopolitics might guess, this is bad news for the people of Kutar. Urged on by a Kurtzian American military advisor named Colonel Munn, the little-used Kutaran army marches into the hills. In quick order they are decimated, and with stunning rapidity the heights above Laradan are occupied by a rebel force possessed of the government's abandoned artillery. Soon the Americans, and all other foreigners, are ordered from the country and leave the people of Laradan to their fate.
For his own deeply personal reasons, David chooses to stay on in the besieged city, and moves into the Moonlight Hotel, a crumbling colonial dinosaur. There he is joined by an eclectic assortment of other foreigners, including a senior British diplomat, an acid-tongued Romanian countess, and Amira, an aristocratic young woman who previously spurned David's romantic advances. Together, this small community tries to maneuver over the radically-changed landscape of the beleaguered city, while holding out hope that the outside world might yet come to its rescue. Then the shooting begins in earnest.
This fascinating satire of American imperialism and hypocrisy unfolds in the fictional Arab kingdom of Kutar, circa 1983. Anderson, a veteran foreign correspondent, paints an authentic picture of this sleepy backwater, its diplomatic corps and protagonist David Richards, a womanizing 34-year-old midlevel diplomat. For decades, remote interior tribes have sporadically clashed with the British and U.S.-supported central government--skirmishes that are ignored until pugnacious American Colonel Munn decides the insurgents represent antidemocratic forces and urges the Kutar army into the wilderness, where they're ambushed and relieved of their American weapons. The newly equipped rebels sweep forward and besiege the capitol, Laradan, where Richards has been left as the only American representative. Having completely destabilized the region, Western governments abandon the obscure, oil-poor nation. Richards waits out the bloody siege in the Moonlight Hotel with love interest Amira Chalasani, a beautiful British-raised Kutaran. He is amazed to realize the U.S. will provide a pittance for relief aid and exhortations to the Kutarans to defeat the enemies of democracy, but no military backing. To prevent a potential massacre, Richard takes an action that should wreck his career; the result is bitterly ironical. Though Anderson (Triage) demonstrates more skill with plot and geopolitical analysis than characterization, he has produced a smart, polished, proto-Syriana page-turner. (May 16)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 14, 2007
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Excerpt from Moonlight Hotel by Scott Anderson
She was leaning on the balcony railing, staring into the night, and David saw how her bare arms shone white, like marble or bone, from the lights of the house. She turned to look at him over her shoulder, tossing her blond hair as she did so. She smiled.
"You must have the best view in Kutar," she said.
David set their drinks on the railing, leaned like her, gazed out at what she saw. "One of them, I guess," he said.
They were on the back balcony of the house. The land fell away abruptly at that point on the ridgeline, giving the illusion at night that one was perched on the edge of a steep cliff. The airport and northern suburbs were below them, and then the desert began, a great darkness broken only by an occasional vehicle coming over the national highway and a few bright lights in the far distance. During his first weeks in Kutar, David had thought those lights were of isolated homes, homes he could never make out during the day, until his telescope arrived and he discovered they were stars low on the horizon. He looked to her and told her this.
She was very pretty in a wholesome, middle-America kind of way: striking eyes somewhere between blue and gray, a pleasant mouth, the emerald-green sheath dress suited her pale skin. He had forgotten her name. Julia, possibly, or maybe Janine.
She took a perfunctory sip from her drink, glanced at her wristwatch. "I should probably get going. Corinne will get worried."
David knew this was the time for him to say something--really, most anything would do. Instead he looked back out at the desert.
An upland breeze brought sounds from the northern suburbs: car horns, the rhythmic clang of metal, the whine of a truck laboring over Gowarshad Pass. From somewhere down the ridge came the baying of a wolf. David had heard the coastal range was home to great packs of wolves--the small, tan-colored sort one found in this part of the world--but he had yet to see one personally.
It was her green dress that he had first noticed at the party; even now, in what passed for early autumn in Kutar, most foreigners wore shades of white on account of the heat. Corinne, the wife of the political attache, had waved David over and introduced her cousin, just in from Chicago for a visit, with a sly expression. Janine? Perhaps it was Jennifer.
At the balcony, he pointed into the dark, off to the east. "The sun comes up right over there. At first the desert is pink, then orange. Then it turns to gold." He lowered his arm, turned to her. "You should stay and watch the sunrise."
He saw the way her hand tightened on the railing, she gave a nervous little laugh. "I don't know," she said. "What would Corinne think?"
David smiled, as much to himself as to her. Corinne knew exactly what to think. Corinne would be far more surprised if her cousin from Chicago actually made the journey back down the mountain tonight. He didn't say this, though.
"You can call her," he said, "tell her you want to see the sunrise."
She reached for her glass again, but stopped, her lips quivering in an uncertain way. He leaned in to kiss her lightly on the jaw.
"You should stay," he whispered.
He kissed her again, a bit lower this time, on her throat, and he felt her sharp intake of breath, her tensing. She smelled of gardenia and rose and something astringent, and she tilted her head back to make room for him.
By the bed, he watched her undress, felt a tug of something almost like sadness at the careful way she removed the green dress and draped it over a chairback.
Afterward, with her sleeping beside him, David gazed up at his bedroom ceiling and listened. There were the usual sounds of the night: the low thrum of the city, the odd creaks of the house; the wolf was quiet now. He felt her breath, hot and regular, on his neck.
He smiled in the dark, struck by the incongruous thought that her breaths on his throat were meant to serve a purpose, as if he were some inflatable object that needed air. With this thought, he considered kissing her--the top of her head was just an inch from his mouth, her hair brushed his lips--but he didn't want to wake her. Instead, after a time he moved out of her embrace, the warm breath on his throat was gone, because what had started out as a humorous image had become a bit unsettling, and he silently rose from the bed and went back outside. He looked to the east, as if for the first traces of dawn, even though he knew this was still a long way off.
The Monday morning staff meeting began at 10:30. David arrived a bit early, as was his habit, in order to claim a seat facing the windows and the embassy's inner courtyard. Though he couldn't see the courtyard garden from that vantage point--the conference room was on the third floor--some of the upper branches of the trees were visible, and he liked having them to gaze at when the meetings went long.