The Far Side of the Desert

July, 2007

A Moorish king and queen bobbed momentarily above Samantha Waters’s scrambled eggs as if waiting to be fed. Outside the second-floor windows of the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, 12-foot puppets of kings and queens and devils and saints peered into the dining room then lurched away toward the square. Samantha leaned over the balustrade and filmed the festivities on the plaza below.

“Let’s go, Monte,” she urged her sister who was hunched over the wooden table with a plate of pancakes. “We can get coffee on the plaza.”

Outside, the smell of coffee and fresh almond cakes rose from pushcarts as pilgrims hurried past shaking tambourines, beating drums and filling the morning air with sound. Somewhere bagpipes played. The sun was already baking the cobblestones in the square where tables and chairs had been set up.

“It’s too crowded,” Monte complained as they merged with a stream of dancers and musicians. “This is a security nightmare!”

“It’s a festival!” Samantha spotted an empty table and tossed her black straw hat over the heads of other spectators to claim it. They’d arrived late last night, she from London and Monte from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. At breakfast they’d read the guidebook which explained how a monk in the 9th century had discovered the body of the Apostle in a vault in the King and Queen’s home village. The village had been celebrating its destiny ever since….”

So begins my new novel The Far Side of the Desert which comes out March 5 and can be ordered now. It is the story of a diplomatic family, including two sisters and a brother, pulled into the nexus of a global plot when one of the sisters is kidnapped at a festival. No one asks for ransom or contacts the family about her whereabouts or why she was taken. Moving from Spain to Cairo to Washington to London to Morocco to Gibraltar, The Far Side of the Desert is a family drama and a political thriller that explores the links of terrorism, crime, and financial manipulation and the grace that ultimately foils destruction.

I hope you’ll read and be engaged by the story, the characters, and the themes. If you are, I hope you’ll tell friends, write a review, make a little noise.

Like my novel Burning Distance which published last year, The Far Side of the Desert is a story written and re-written over many years.

Shared here is the backstory from the Author’s Note:

I first visited Santiago de Compostela, Spain—the opening scene in The Far Side of the Desert—in 1993 as a delegate to PEN International’s 60th Congress. The PEN Congress coincided with the Festival of St. James and the Camino de Santiago where tourists and pilgrims gathered on the plaza in front of the massive Baroque and Romanesque cathedral. The PEN Congress was an entirely separate event, but the festivities overlapped in the square.

Salman Rushdie made a surprise visit to the Congress, one of his first since the fatwa had been issued against him. At that Congress I was elected the Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, the division of PEN that spearheads PEN’s human rights work on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide so I was one of a small group who greeted and shared dinner with Rushdie. I mention these events because it was there I began contemplating what it would be like if one had to disappear or was disappeared, either by choice or coercion. That question is central to the opening of The Far Side of the Desert. What happens when all the familiar props of life are taken away?

There are many events, much research and intertwining threads that develop in The Far Side of the Desert, but the seed of imagination began in Santiago de Compostela and at the end of the Camino on the rugged cliffs of Galicia facing west over the Atlantic. It is here the ancient Romans thought the world ended, a spot they called the Cape of Death because the sun died there and because ships wrecked on the rocks that jutted out into the sea. The Romans saw nothing westward and could imagine nothing but terrors so they declared Non plus Ultra: There is nothing beyond.

Imagining what is beyond, discovering what holds and what falls away is the journey of the two sisters Monte and Samantha Waters who are from an American diplomatic family. The outer frame of the story includes drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and financial manipulation—a membrane of crime that smothers large parts of the globe. But the core is the characters and the journeys of their hearts and minds.

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