Tag Archives: Iraq

Penetrating thriller treats deep-cover spycraft and apocalyptic danger

End Game, by David Hagberg. Forge. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.99.

This latest Kirk McGarvey novel is a major tour de force for its prolific and widely-praised author. Sarasota author David Halberg seems to dare himself with the riskiest premise, leaving readers to wonder if he can manage those self-made challenges of plotting, suspense, and characters at the edge of plausible definition. What kind of serial killer leaves his mark by eating through the faces and throats of his victims? Is this a mania or a message? endgamecover_hagbergf16

It’s easy for the top strata of CIA insiders to understand the common denominators that define the victim pool. They are all a certain kind of CIA outside insider; that is, they are (or were) NOCs, agents who work under Non-Official Cover. These are operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to the government. Some, including several in this novel, are somehow repatriated into normal roles within the CIA.

Seven such agents have something else in common: they were all part of or knew about an operation in Kirkuk, the major Iraqi petroleum center. Something was buried above city just before the Second Gulf War, and its discovery and implementation threaten to set off World War Final.

Who’re you gonna call? In a Kirk McGarvey novel you’re going to call Kirk, a former CIA director who is often brought in on special cases. Once you call Kirk, you’re going to hear from his occasional squeeze, Pete Boylan, a brave and beautiful agent who will inevitable get in Kirk’s way – emotionally, that is.



Though this thriller has international sweep, taking readers to Greece, France, Israel, and other locations, many scenes are set at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia just outside of Washington, D. C. In these scenes, the authoritative detail is compelling (whether it is truly accurate or not is another matter). Mr. Hagberg puts us right on the spot, whether he is presenting extended vistas of the campus, main buildings or outbuildings, or the interiors of offices and meeting rooms. Security and other technical features are highlighted, and the reality of the CIA characters is enhanced by the way they related to their environment.

In the courtyard at CIA headquarters stands Kryptos, a piece of statuary designed to reveal important secrets of if it can be decoded. Its four engraved copper panels, once deciphered, predict the means and purpose of the serial killings. Re-writing history is part of the agenda. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 12, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – End Game

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“And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East,” by Richard Engel

  • Simon & Schuster. 256 pages. Hardcover $27.00.

“An unexpected, suspenseful page-turner.”

At once career memoir and analysis of recent Middle East history, Richard Engel’s new book, And Then All Hell Broke Loose, is an unexpected, suspenseful page-turner. It is the story of a young, enthusiastic journalist’s coming of age as a premier foreign (read “war”) correspondent. Fresh out of Stanford, and at first without employment, Engel plunked himself down in the major trouble spots of the Arab world, beginning in Cairo in 1993.

After a string of freelance assignments, he became NBC’s Beirut bureau chief and then the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. As the book title promises, all hell is breaking loose around Engel, but that’s because he eagerly shows up wherever that is likely to happen. He is plying his trade.



One fascinating thread in Engel’s powerful presentation involves the tradecraft and survival skills of a foreign correspondent: where to stay, how to travel, what to bring from one place to another, how to develop contacts, how to interview effectively, and, perhaps most important, how to stay safe and out of legal trouble. Dozens of episodes dramatize the daily working life of someone seeking and developing the stories that will reach an editor and get into print or on the air.

Another thread is Engel’s take on the history he has reported. Of course, it wasn’t history yet, but the unfolding present: the downfalls of Mubarak and Morsi in Egypt; the second Intifada in Jerusalem; the wars in Lebanon, Iraq (where Engel spent several years), Libya, and Syria. For Engel, it was all close up and personal. Yet he wasn’t part of the story. Now he is.

Looking back, he can offer personal reflections on the political dimensions and consequences of U.S. actions undertaken or not undertaken during the Bush 2 and Obama presidencies. Engel understands the forces influencing their decisions, but he judges these men rather harshly and supports his judgments convincingly. . . .

For the full review, see: And Then All Hell Broke Loose | Washington Independent Review of Books

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From Kurdistan to La-La Land: a Jewish Journey

This review appears in the February issue of the (Jewish Federation of Collier County, Florida) Federation Star.

“My Father’s Paradise,” by Ariel Sabar. Algonquin Books. 344 pages. $25.95 (hardcover), $14.95 (paperback).

This fascinating, harrowing, and uplifting book, subtitled “A Son’s Search for His Family’s Past,” is one of several recent books that portray lesser-known strands of Jewish history and identity. These include Lucette Lagnado’s “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World” and Dalia Sofer’s novel “The Septembers of Shiraz,” detailing the effects of the Iranian Revolution on a prosperous Jewish family. Ariel Sabar, like Lagnado a working journalist, takes us through four generations of Kurdish Jews, beginning with his great-grandfather’s world. Along the way, he presents a riveting overview of Middle-Eastern history.

Zakho, then a small, desolate frontier town in mountainous northern Iraq near the Turkish border, was a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in relative harmony. Bonded by an overarching Kurdish identity and by the ancient, vanishing Aramaic language, these Jews kept their heads down but managed lives of relative freedom. Geographical isolation played a part in maintaining this “paradise.” Here Ephraim Beh Sabagha, the dyer of Zakho, lived his life as a respected working man and as a holy man who communed with God and shouted out in exaltation to spirits and biblical figures.

The harmonious existence of this family in its community continued into the adult years of Mr. Sabar’s grandfather, Rahamim, who prospered as a businessman along with his brothers. Yona, Rahamim’s son, had his bar mitzvah a year early, just ahead of the Bathist regime’s excesses that led to a huge immigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1951. Sabar observes how the birth of the modern Jewish state in 1948 damaged the peaceful coexistence of the various Sons of Abraham.  Simultaneously, the repression of the Kurds accelerated the decline of Aramaic as a living language.

Successful Kurdistanis like Rahamim found themselves second-class citizens in the wished-for paradise of Israel, trapped in shabby neighborhoods and menial occupations. The ruling class Ashkanazi prejudice against Sephardi and other Jewish strands was especially strong against the Kurds. This immigrant group led lives of humiliation and despair; however, their children slowly made advances in the melting pot society.

One such child, Ariel Sabar’s father Yona, succeeded in school and gained access to higher education – first in Israel, and then in the United States on a graduate school fellowship to Yale. The story of Yona, the narrative’s twice-displaced hero (the second time by his own choice), carries the theme of blurred identity. He marries an American Jew and obtains, after some years of non-tenure track academic employments, a position at UCLA and a home in middle-class Westwood. Yona’s career in this latest paradise involves research into Aramaic, his native language, its vocabulary slipping from his memory even as he becomes an internationally-recognized authority on its history, intricacies, and the culture that it conveys.

Yona accepted his opportunities, escaping his parents’ world of shame and regret. Or did he? He dreams of Zakho. He remains a foreigner in California. His manner, style, and accented, non-colloquial English render him a target of scorn to his son, American-born Ariel. 

Ariel Sabar’s gradual transformation from resentful, disrespectful youth to ardent keeper of his father’s, his family’s, and their culture’s honor, stories, and traditions is the book’s final stage. The author has set and met an astounding challenge – magnificently.

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BOOK BEAT 39 – Nancy Poffenberger

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   April 11-17, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Back in 1974, Nancy Poffenberger’s son wanted to play the piano, but he did not wish to take formal lessons. Nancy devised a simple method, involving putting stickers with colors and letters onto the piano keys and preparing an accompanying instruction book. Soon, the neighborhood children were coming over and playing – and enjoying themselves. So Nancy, herself a 4th grade teacher, made up about thirty books and field-tested the system she had devised in various schools in and around Cincinnati. The teachers loved it, and before long Nancy Poffenberger was the author of Piano Fun Book One – which has now been in print for over thirty years.

The book was originally brought out by a small commercial publisher, but that firm soon folded. The copyright reverted to Nancy, and she reissued the title through her own company, Fun Publishing. Over the years, the original book was supplemented by several other “Piano Fun” books and by several “Recorder Fun” and “Xylo-Fun” titles. These titles, which have been featured in major publications regionally and nationally, all remain available. Nancy enjoys the extra measure of control over her work that comes with being her own publisher.

Simplicity is the key to the success of this series. Not only does it work for the youngest students, it works for older people who want an easy, tested method. It has also been a success in special education programs, in nursing homes, and elsewhere.

Fun Publishing became something of a family enterprise, as Nancy was aided by the expertise of her husband, John, who is a patent and copyright attorney. She even got John interested in authorship, and his How to Coach Winning Soccer, a basic guide for novice coaches, is one of their Fun Publishing titles.  

Nancy switched gears from being the “music lady” to some new concerns soon after the disaster of 9/11 struck. A grandmother (now of nine grandchildren), she felt that young children were not being addressed in any useful way about such momentous world events. Television was filled with images and endless reporting and analysis, but there were no materials directed at children – who could only be shocked and confused by what the media presented. Inspired by a talk at a regional book fair in Indianapolis to try something “out of the box,” Nancy decided to fill this vacuum. In an epiphanic moment while driving home, she planned the book that she subtitles “a simple account for children.” Published in 2002, September 11th, 2001 is a straightforward, accessible narrative interspersed with illustrations by schoolchildren. The book was praised by educators and did very well on a national scale.

More recently, Nancy brought out a related children’s book – Iraq, 2003. This one aims at an overlapping but somewhat older audience. Illustrated by Val Gottesman, the Iraq book places Iraq geographically and relates regional events from 1980 up to President Bush’s declaration of an end to the major conflict in May of 2003. Teachers value it because it enables them to fulfill state education requirements in geography, history, and current events in an interesting way.

Nancy Poffenberger is a Northwestern University graduate and winner of the university’s outstanding student-teacher award. She taught Elementary school in Palo Alto, California, and attended graduate school at Boston University before settling in Cincinnati. She and her husband began visiting Naples for winter vacations about ten years ago. Recently, their Naples time has increased – and now they have become Florida residents and spend about half of the year here. And Florida must be getting into Nancy’s blood. She hinted that she is working on a new book with a Florida focus.

Nancy presents hands-on workshops around the country using her keyboards, recorders and xylophones, along with the music books she has written. These programs are perfect for children, teachers, or retirement centers. She has also branched out as a motivational speaker, with such topics as “Music for Life: Making Music on Your Own” (suitable for all ages), “Stirring Your Creative Juices After 50” (age group obvious), and “Bringing Your Book to Life: From Idea to Print.”

Nancy Poffenberger’s books are available from major book retailers and from her own website, funpublishing.com. To engage her for a demonstration or as a motivational speaker, send email to funpublish@aol.com.

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. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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