100 years after the Heart of Darkness and the 21st Century Empire Builders are ready for another go at Africa.
The Message is a literary thriller set in a fictional African state in the grip of civil war provoked by an unusual religious development. Written with the immediacy of an airport novel, though addressing themes normally associated with literary fiction, the Message is an exciting, topical treatment of realpolitk, personal integrity and the cost of Empire building.
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The Message is set in Shimba a fictional East African country in the middle of a civil war. Shimba is rich in a mineral - Shimberite - that is used in mobile phones, the population desperately poor. The rebel movement is led by a man claiming to be the Mahdi - the prophesied saviour of Islam. He leads a chaotic force of fighter against a government who until recently ran Shimba in Western interests. Shimba is being stalked by mercenaries, aid-workers and Iranian and British secret forces. The novel follows the adventures of a small SAS group dispatched to assassinate the Mahdi. Iran has also sent two operatives to determine the trajectory of a rebel movement that they have backed - seeking their own influence in the resource-rich country. This is a world of hard, cynical politics where only imperial concerns and profits matter. There is also an aid worker, Foy, who get caught up in the fighting having originally travelled to Africa for an authentic experience helping the poor - instead she gets pulled into Shimba's tragedy. Foy is kidnapped by a family of brutal mercenaries from Ipswich hired by the Mahdi to shore up and defend his power. The backdrop of the novel is the revolutions in North Africa that have cast imperial policy into a panic as countries struggle to maintain their influence on a region that is rapidly mutating - by mass upheavals, but also wars caused by the long, post-colony legacies of foreign interventions and resource wars. The book is a hard-hitting and challenging satire - written with incredible dexterity and energy. The characters are modern representatives of Africa's wars. The SAS men, little more than mercenaries themselves, are cynics without illusions about what they are doing. Their world is cast into simple dichotomies of 'primitive' Africans and 'available' women. The Iranian regime seeks the same control over the country as the meddling and violent British, only on different sides. The mercenaries roam 21st century conflicts for money and violence. The Africans we encounter are doomed in this war to be both its innocent victims and dupes to movements that offer them nothing. Africa's conflicts turn it participants into exactly the savage and broken characters described in The Message. The aid-worker on a mission to assuage the guilt she feels at her middle class privileges by being a 'better person'. But in the novel she is nothing more than another useless whitey seeking adventure and salvation in Africa. The Message has stripped down the world into its brutal components. The story is not far from reality. The Congo's recent wars drew in the exactly the same motley crowd of 'family' mercenaries, US and British special forces on 'training' operations and regional countries jostling, through competing rebel armies, for control of the country's extraordinary mineral wealth. The murder and mayhem of The Message is one side of the continents globalisations after decades of imperial squabbling, humanitarian intervention and structural reforms. The alternatives are bleak for a country riven by these wars. As Beasley, one of the SAS men in The Message observes, 'we thrive on unpredictability and we're adaptable. Three weeks after we reopen diplomatic channels, we'll have their Mahdi as corrupt as the old boy was, and twice as nice, stops things from going stale.' The Socialist Review ~
The Message was an excellent plot and what an antidote to Greenmantle which I remember reading as a kid. Loved your prose style in The Message... Amongst my favorite lines... "the bored deity who must have tossed them off for reasons of contrast." .... "burning urns mentholating the air , the atmosphere uncomfortably feral , better suited to a convalescing animal than a new head of state...." And some interesting views on religion on Page 120 I especially enjoyed. That family made excellent villains - really foul- and neo-Dickensian. Pat Mills ~
A fictional African state of little consequence becomes suddenly more consequential when a local warlord disdains dressing like a hip-hop star and proclaims himself to be the descendent of the prophet Mohammed. Iran immediately dispatches an adviser, while Britain sends in the SAS in order to protect hi-tech mineral assets worth more than their weight in mobile phones. Goddard's comic thriller starts out well, with a timely nod to insurgencies in the Arab world, and features a venal Ayatollah who asks whether "it is always in God's interest to have people who believe in him running the world"? The Iranian ambassador has a good grasp of the situation: "The British were here and it was not like them to come without a reason. The plot was not going to get any thinner and he did not want it to."~ The Guardian
THE MESSAGE is a remarkable and timely novel which deals, in fictional form, with the global consequences of the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
One of Tariq Goddard's great successes is his technique of devising representative characters from all sides of the religious and ideological divide. The result is a kind of international dialogue, true to the complexities of the contemporary world it describes.
Goddard's novel is played out on a wide canvas which takes in contemporary Britain, Iran and Africa. The writing is compelling, and the subject-matter is both urgent and well-defined.
I do not expect to read a more important or rewarding novel this year.~ Dr Andrew Biswell, Director, International Anthony Burgess Foundation