Timothy Mo, who as the son of wealthy Hong Kong Chinese attended Oxford, is a superbly gifted writer but a difficult man who has long fought with his publishers. Once a favourite of the English literary set, he fell out of favour. In later life he has produced a masterwork, Pure. Mo had always wondered why a dynamic art form such as fiction had failed to confront the single most pressing issue of the age, the minds and motivations of Muslim fundamentalists. With a tide of jihad sweeping the world, the question became ever more pressing. In Pure Timothy Mo uses the device of character. He pits an ice addicted yaba addled Bangkok lady boy, a freelance entertainment journalist called Snooky, “Snooky was lonely because she was smart”, into the world of mujaheddin training camps in southern Thailand. Co-opted as a spy, there she grows a beard, participates in forays into the world of jihad in Indonesia, and reports to her minder, caught between the hidden, complex worlds of intelligence operatives and Muslim jihadists. Thanks to fights with his publishers, this book has never received the attention it deserves. Simply put: Pure is a must read, a neglected masterpiece.
The Rise of Islamic State, written by senior Middle Eastern correspondent Patrick Cockburn, explores the origins of history’s most successful terrorist group and the unfolding of US and the West’s greatest foreign policy debacle. In military operations, by mid 2014 they had outreached Al Qaeda, taking territory that reached across borders and included the city of Mosul. The reports of their military power and brutality to their victims continue to shock and intimidate the West. Out of the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring and Syria, a weakened Al-Qaeda has allowed for new jihadi movements, especially Islamic State.
The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities is a rivetting firsthand account of a young British civilian woman, Emma Sky, who volunteered to go to Iraq immediately after the invasion in 2003, and within weeks found herself in the role of Governor of Kirkuk – the most dangerous place on Earth. As a Brit, a woman and a liberal, Emma Sky’s presence and position in Iraq following the invasion in 2003 is the stuff of fiction. Shortly after the coalition troops went in, Sky, an Arabist, volunteered to go to assist the Coalition Provisional Authority in the occupation. Alone, she made her way to Baghdad, was told they had enough people, so travelled north, to Kirkuk. Within days she became the most senior civilian there, Kirkuk’s lady governor.