LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI
by N. Lee Wood
Ace, ISBN 0-441-00450-4, 1997 (1996c), 337pp, US$5.99
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1997 Evelyn C. Leeper
This book is not without flaws, but it did keep me up until 3 AM to finish it, so I guess that serves as a recommendation.
Kahlili bint Munadi Sulaiman is a television journalist. She covered a war in Khuruchabja (not unlike the war in Iraq, from the description), and now finds herself involved in escorting John Halton to Khuruchabja. But neither are what they appear: Sulaiman is also K. B. Sulaiman, male journalist (because frankly, there was no way a woman could cover a war in a Muslim fundamentalist country), and Halton is a fabricant. And besides the issue of gender, there is also the layer of deception and concealment inherent in the television journalism business: the newscasters are just "bubble-heads" repeating the words fed to them and nothing is what it seems. Given that the whole Middle East situation in real life and in the book seems tied up with identity in strange ways, I am sure that this emphasis on multiple and hidden identities is not accidental. (I might quibble that "Khuruchabja" sounds more Central Asian than Middle Eastern, but let it pass.) If you question whether Sulaiman could carry off her disguise, consider Linda Hunt in the film THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY.
Halton is also trying to conceal his identity. Fabricants are not entirely popular, even with heavy government regulation. This regulation, by the way, is one of my two major complaints. LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI was obviously written before the recent cloning announcements, but even then reproductive technology had gone far enough that the sorts of definitions of "human" used here would never have been accepted.
Wood thinks through this whole issue of concealment more than most. Her characters need to acquire more than just the clothing and the hair cuts, they need to think and react the way their false egos would. They do not always succeed. One of the things that makes the story ring true is that they are not perfect at it. They make mistakes. Things happen beyond their control. And they have to deal with it.
Wood focuses primarily on intra-Muslim strife, and maybe because both (all?) sides are Muslim, she seems to avoid the stereotypes and extremes that so many writers fall into when they have the Muslims all on one side as inhuman monsters bent on destroying Western civilization. My only other complaint is the ending--I find Wood's "solution" to the Middle East situation unlikely, to say the least.
I haven't read Wood's first novel (FARADAY'S ORPHANS), but after reading LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI, I will be looking for that one as well. Wood is an author to watch and LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI is a book to read.
%T Looking for the Mahdi %A N. Lee Wood %C New York %D 1996 %I Ace %O paperback, US$5.99  %G ISBN 0-441-00450-4 %P 337pp
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