Legerdemain by James J. Heaphey
Copyright 2008, History Publishing LLC
I had heard a little about Qutb, who was considered to be the father of modern Islamist Fundamentalism and the most famous personality of the contemporary Muslim world. His ideology had spread throughout the Muslim world, particularly to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. When I studied Russian at Syracuse University, as a new recruit in the U.S.A.F. Security Service, one of my instructors, going at that time by the name of Grishko Baguta, told us that the West would prevail over the Soviet Union, but would not see what was coming next, a conflict with Islamists that would defy our mindset and confuse our military stragegies and tactics. I didn't remember his warning because it made sense to me at the time. I remembered it because of the way he phrased it. "You will be an Alice in Wonderland. You will try to understand in the way you have learned to understand. And that will not work." [p. 184]
What led you to pick up this book? I requested a copy from publicist Lisa Roe because it sounded like a really fascinating bit of spy history. Wow, good decision.
Before I go any further, I must mention that Legerdemain is one of those rare, enthalling books that I feel completely unqualified to describe well enough to do it justice. Do you like history? It's worth rushing right out to buy, in my humble opinion.
Describe the book without giving anything away. Legerdemain is the true story of the author's experience as a U.S. Air Force undercover operative stationed in French Morocco in the 1950's, during the Cold War. At the time, the United States stored atom bombs in Morocco and it was to the U.S.'s advantage to secretly side with Moroccan nationalists in order to ensure that bases within range of the Soviet Union remained in place after the French colonial empire crumbled.
From the cover:
Reading like a novel of high adventure, Legerdemain unveils the working of undercover operatives of Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad, America's CIA, France's Security Services, the Soviet Union's KGB, as well as the French Foreign Legion. Heaphey describes his mission, which took him from the coffee houses and bathhouses of Casablanca to the fairs of Marrakech and the mountainside villages of Cyprus, and from Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains to foreign Legion outposts on the apron of the Sahara. Through it all, Heaphey examines the Islamic thinking of the period and unravels geopolitical operations that would continue to set the tone for the Cold War for decades to come.
What did you think of the characters? Truly an amazing, fascinating cast of real-life characters (some were given pseudonyms for the purposes of telling the story, but not all). The author had a startling depth of understanding of the economic and political situation in the region(especially given his age -- he was 22, when the story began), was generally calm, even in situations of extreme danger, and moved easily from country to country in his role as a spy posing as a journalist.
Share a favorite scene from the book: I really enjoyed the tense scenes, when Heaphey and his cohorts were in dangerous situations -- driving through the Atlas Mountains (Berber territory), rushing to attempt to save the life of a Moroccan nationalist who posed as pro-French, hiding in a Moroccan bath while a gruesome mass murder went on just outside the building. James Heaphey and his contacts were truly courageous people.
I also liked Heaphey's subtle sense of humor. When he interviewed Anwar Sadat with a view to gaining information, he closed the chapter about the experience with this comment:
I learned a number of things at that interview, one of which was: Always request a glass of water to go along with Egyptian coffee. It is almost too thick to swallow.
4.5/5 - Enthusiastically recommended: I found Legerdemain more gripping than most spy novels I've read. Last year, I read a memoir by a gal who whined her way through the entire narrative about her training and experiences in the CIA. What Heaphey experienced as an undercover operative is, I think, the kind of work she desired as a spy. However, Heaphey wisely skipped over his training (Air Force, not CIA) and early experience, then referred back to it only when necessary to give perspective and depth to his narrative. He really jumped right into the spy game and told the best stories.
In general: I refer to myself as "history stupid". Politics? Oh, dear. Even worse. So, I read the book slowly and let the author's explanations of the political climate sink in, discussed with my husband (who has a much better understanding of history, military policy and the complexities involved when people of different backgrounds, histories, traditions and cultural climates interact), and kept the world globe handy. In spite of my total ignorance, I found the book was clearly written and believe I came out of the reading of Legerdemain with an understanding of quite a few things that have always baffled me. It wasn't just an exciting read; it was a learning experience.
My only complaint: Editing trouble, again -- or maybe the problem had to do with the formatting, which I hear can be very tricky, although there were some misspellings. I noticed quite a few misplaced, extra or missing quotation marks, in particular. Occasionally, one person's quote ran into another's and I had to stop and sort out who was speaking.
Read other reviews, here:
Cheryl's Book Nook
Blogger News Network
Eva of A Striped Armchair took her copy of Legerdemain along on vacation, so she should have a review posted soon, also.
Next up: Drawing for that copy of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus and a review of Will Storr vs. the Supernatural.