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John Ralston Saul

Toronto, Granada Publishing, c1983.
Distributed by Collins.
350pp, cloth, $ 17.95.
ISBN 0-246-12229-3.

Reviewed by Joan McGrath.

Volume 12 Number 2
1984 March

Baraka, Arabic for divine luck, is something this novel needs to rescue it from a short literary life. The Roman candle hyped on the dust jacket sputters fitfully for three hundred pages, then explodes in the last fifty, but it is a case of too little, too late.

The novel involves a rising young oil executive, Martin Laing, who agrees to negotiate an illegal arms deal using American war surplus from Vietnam, in order to secure drilling rights there for his company. He secures the services of an old college buddy to handle the deal, but is blackmailed into betraying his friend and the purchasers of the arms, a Saharan guerilla force.

The book has its strengths, though the author fails to develop them well. Saul deals with friendship ties that stretch over time and continents, yet still remain strong, with treachery, with consuming ambition, and with ruthless intra-corporate rivalry. The author would do well to concentrate on delineating these themes more minutely and leave the thriller genre to more competent hands.

Saul fails to exploit a story with excellent potential. First of all, the title, which would probably have made a good central theme, was obviously chosen for its consumer appeal and has little to do with the text. The characters, though competently drawn, move sluggishly through a plot whose pace seems stultified by the searing heat of the novel's exotic settings: Morocco, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The sex scenes, though expected, add nothing to the novel and are handled poorly. One scene, between Laing's wife and his friend is totally incongruous, since she previously expressed a marked dislike to him. Indeed, one suspects the author was pressured by the publisher to add just one more sex scene, since the last one is gratuitous as well.

Saul is at his best when he has Laing's wife, an architect, watching the ancient city of Fez become wreathed by dusk and sink into darkness. It is a powerful paragraph and shows Saul can really write if he wants to.

The novel would fill a few summer afternoons or a couple of trans-Atlantic flights adequately, but wait for the paperback. This is a thriller you can put down anytime.

Chris Kempling, Quesnel, BC.
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