BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times November 14-20, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
Aram Schefrin is one of the 30,000 authors who has published through the services of AuthorHouse, but clearly he is one of those self-published writers who deserves the status of a traditional publisher and a prestige imprint. His fourth novel, “Marwan: The Autobiography of a 9/11 Terrorist,” is a taut, well-paced exploration of a key episode in contemporary history. Suspenseful and illuminating, “Marwan” is brilliantly balanced between the compelling narration of known facts and the imaginative response to unanswered questions.
Who are these people who could find themselves attracted to the suicide mission of flying American airliners into the towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and, if all had gone according to plan, the Capitol Building? What shaped them? What made their destinies inevitable? How did they relate to one another? How did they form their opinions about the United States and its purposes? How convinced were they of the holiness of their martyrdom? How pure was their Islamic faith? Schefrin examines these and other questions in the course of his bi-level narrative that moves along two timelines.
One timeline begins in autumn of 1996, when several of the principal players are first brought together in Hamburg, Germany. This timeline unpacks in chapters that alternate with those fleshing out another timeline that moves forward from its June 2000 point of attack in New York City. The earlier timeline is narrated in the third person by a voice that stays, for the most part, outside of the characters’ heads. Its sequence of events eventually catches up to the second timeline, which is Marwan’s narrative – his so-called autobiography. Here Schefrin gives us an intimate portrait of his title character’s thoughts and feelings – and his frequent stretches of ambivalence and confusion.
One could take issue with the autobiography premise: the dead don’t write memoirs, and it would have been much easier to accept the discovery of a secret journal. But perhaps Schefrin wondered how Marwan’s journal-keeping could have been kept hidden from his demanding, commanding leader – Atta. At any rate, this logical leap is finally worth the risk as it enables us so fully to share the principal character’s experiences. (Or perhaps he is writing from Paradise, with or without the 72 Virgins.)
Some readers will be offended by the book, as it may seem to ask for sympathy with its characters’ views and, finally, a sympathetic understanding of their actions. But I don’t think it has to be read that way. We can learn much from Schefrin’s novelistic speculations, which are grounded in firm and realistic insights into human nature.
“Marwan” has several strengths, not least among them Schefrin’s handling of the various settings through which his characters move. The map of the novel includes not only Germany and New York, but the Boston area, Las Vegas, Pakistan, Cairo, Dubai, Spain, Oklahoma, and those three key Florida towns: Sarasota, Venice, and Hollywood. Sure-handedly, Schefrin mixes action, densely-textured setting and atmosphere, and characterization. He fashions a convincing world filled with sensory detail that lends credence to the more speculative and abstract dimensions of the novel.
The author does a remarkable job in keeping the reader engaged, especially considering the fact that the outcome is known from the beginning. Along the way, we come to appreciate (or, more likely, be stunned by) the brilliant simplicity of the terrorist plan and the ease with which a series of interim goals were accomplished, leading to the ultimate objective. That is, we see how ineffectual our security was, and we can and should wonder about how much it has improved over the last six years – and at what price.
Aram Schefrin, who lives in Wellington, Florida, practices law there as well as in Rhode Island. For a six-year period beginning in 1968, he was part of the jazz/rock fusion band Ten Wheel Drive. You can find out more about Mr. Schefrin, including his innovations in podcasting fiction, his other novels, and his love for polo ponies, by browsing aramschefrin.blogspot.com. The audio version of “Marwan” is available from podiobooks.com, the print edition from the publisher and from major online booksellers.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.