I have a shelf on my desk where I keep books that I’ve finished but haven’t reviewed. There are several books that have been sitting there for a month or more that I keep meaning to review… and then can’t find much to say about despite having generally good feelings about them. In the spirit of decluttering my desk, I’m going to dispatch with a couple of these unread remnants in one quick post. Here we go!
Hunting Season by Mirta Ojito
In November 2008, a group of teenagers in a small town in Long Island attacked and murdered Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old undocumented immigrant from Ecuador. In the wake of Lucero’s racially-motivated murder, the town became a central location in a nationwide debate about immigration. In Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Small Town, Mirta Ojito uses this story to explore how hate can manifest under the surface of a small town and illustrate larger questions about our nation’s policies towards immigrants.
I was interested in picking this one up because I live in a small town that has a (relatively) large Hispanic community thanks to a couple of larger agriculture businesses in the region. Given that experiences, Ojito’s reporting on how an influx of immigrants can impact small communities felt entirely accurate to me. Unfortunately, the book overall felt a little flat — it just didn’t have the emotional impact I was expecting out of a book on such a difficult topic. I’m not sure what the reason for that is, but it was something I remember thinking after I finished the book.
The Good Spy by Robert Ames
On April 18, 1983, a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. The attack was a geopolitical turning point. It marked the beginning of Hezbollah as a political force, but even more important, it eliminated America’s most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East – CIA operative Robert Ames. What set Ames apart from his peers was his extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence figures. Some operatives relied on threats and subterfuge, but Ames worked by building friendships and emphasizing shared values – never more notably than with Yasir Arafat’s charismatic intelligence chief and heir apparent Ali Hassan Salameh (aka “The Red Prince”). Ames’ deepening relationship with Salameh held the potential for a lasting peace. Within a few years, though, both men were killed by assassins, and America’s relations with the Arab world began heading down a path that culminated in 9/11, the War on Terror, and the current fog of mistrust.
As you can probably tell from the summary, The Good Spy is a book that has a lot of moving parts. As a result, it’s very information heavy, but for the most part it didn’t feel bogged down in relaying too many facts at the expense of story. The narrative moves along quickly, and Ames’ biography provides a useful timeline for anchoring a bigger story about the struggle for peace in the Middle East. This was one of the more comprehensive yet readable books on that topic I’ve picked up, although it may not be narrative enough for every reader.