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Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: Arsenal

Tammy Swofford’s suspense novel Arsenal, the title referring to strategic thought rather than to the military battlefield or acts of militant jihad, lives up to its genre label. The plot, well delineated and plausible, deals with the search for an Islamic treasure, namely, a pouch containing the hair of Muhammad the Prophet. Early on in the novel, the voice of a minor character describes the mission of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, deemed decadent by the devout, and lays the foundation for the suspense plot that rushes to fulfillment in the second portion of Arsenal:
“'Just as we are to recite the Qur’an in a measured tone, we must also move in a measured and quiet manner in the West. We do not move as a lion, but we move as a panther'” (19).
Along the way, Arsenal, points out the dangers of geopolitical Islam and the West’s gullibility thereto, particularly the lack of Western understanding of the 1998-2007 wordcraft sword of Islam as expressed by the thoughts of the character Ahmad as-Sirjani:
“Universal Values. Two simple words….The words would sound secular, adaptable to the Western ear. But the cryptograph would be Qur’anic….It was time for a paradigm shift” (103).
Genre and political aspects aside, what makes this novel an outstanding and readable piece of writing is threefold.

First, Swofford has obviously done her research on the history of Islam and the beliefs of the most devout of the ummah. Early on in the novel, the author takes the reader into the Muslim mind and explains Muslim veneration of the prophet and the Qur’an:
“None of the men believed the Prophet had been unlettered. They considered him highly educated for his time and place in history – a statesman, strategist and military general, all wrapped up in the cloak of a prophet. Neither did they have any sense of angst regarding those who considered abrogation of the Qur’anic text a mere exercise in situational ethics. They believed the complete Qur’an was downloaded into the leader of their faith at an instant in time. He merely released the word of god when the time was sensitive, his audience malleable to the message. The original text of the Qur’an was in heaven and the Qur’an on earth represented the active voice of their god and creator” (40).
Second, the characters live on the page – both dramatically and humorously. A secondary theme throughout the novel is Islamic misogyny, presented via the attitudes of the central male Muslim characters:
“Men must be careful regarding women. They could not be trusted when alone with a man. A woman could seduce with a look, perfume or the sound of their laughter. Dr. Morgan, [revert to Islam], determined to call his wife prior to leaving for the Hajj” (38).
In a moment of contrast that illustrates the dual nature of the male Muslim’s attitude toward women, Anwaar Zakaria, another main character and a comrade of Dr. Morgan’s, takes special care to provide well for his widowed mother even as he furthers the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda, an agenda which began in earnest in 1962 with a period of strategic planning of three years followed by twenty years of activism. The humorous portions of character development provide balance to the darker aspects of Islamic supremacism and often reflect Swofford’s experience as a registered nurse and as an astute observer of humanity. The reader cannot help but smile when encountering the following:
“The human genome is the most mysterious of treasure maps. A man gifted with physical strength may find his weakness to be an eroding self doubt. He looks good on the court or the field but might prove a disaster in the corporate board room….The woman with great beauty may have a personality which flows along the shallows. She becomes an arm ornament for her husband to later be treated as a cheap objet d’art no longer worthy of his adoration….But the most arresting and trouble-prone of gene maps is a lack of genius married to insatiable curiosity” (28-29).
Character development is one of the great strengths of Arsenal!

Finally, Swofford’s minimalistic writing style, which also includes appropriate use of foreshadowing, provides the refreshing reading experience of not being subjected to a single wasted word or a single digression from driving forward the plot and character development. The closing words of the novel offer a representative sample of the style which the entire novel evinces:
“He heard his wife stirring in the bedroom. A good cup of tea would await him shortly. Smiling slightly, he bent down to straighten his prayer rug. And then, he was no more” (218).
I highly recommend Tammy Swofford's novel Arsenal. It holds the reader's attention from the first page — all the way through the final sentence. This novel is fiction at its best!

(Arsenal is Tammy Swofford’s first novel and is available at Amazon)

30 comments:

  1. Sounds very intriguing, AOW. I see it's available in paperback, but is it also available online?

    The only way I can read substantial amounts of print anymore is in the computer where enlarging the font is possible -- one of the problems that came ten years ago with Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy.

    Seven surgeries in eight years have saved me from blindness, but have not made it easy and pleasant to read good old-fashioned books once again. In fact I find reading my mail a daunting task -- exhausting.

    I'd love to read it. Would Ms. Swofford permit you to post a sample chapter -- if that's even possible?

    ~ FreeThinke

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  2. The book Arsenal is available at Amazon.com in paperback and should be available in e-form soon.

    Thanks for the great review AOW and glad you enjoyed Tammy's book, I knew you would.

    Debbie
    Right Truth
    http://www.righttruth.typepad.com

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  3. FT,
    The font size and line spacing of the printed book is "eye friendly." I'll have to check the exact size for you. I can say offhand that the font size is larger that 12 point. It might be as large as 14-point font. I have no idea if that larger font is large enough for you.

    BTW, I have contacted Tammy Swofford and alerted her to your comment.

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  4. FT,
    You will love the use of language in the book. Tammy Swofford is a wordsmith!

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  5. This sounds like a very good read!

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  6. FT,
    I think that you'll enjoy THIS SATIRE by Tammy Swofford. I used this satire as a model for my class this term.

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  7. Tammy's also a good blogger. I'm surprised she hasn't been picked up by a bigger forum.

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  8. HERE is a sample from the book. Click on the arrows to turn the pages.

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  9. Brooke,
    I don't usually read thrillers. I made an exception this time. And I'm glad that I did! It was a riveting read.

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  10. And good enough to read a second time, too!

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  11. AOW,
    Thank you for the gift of time and for reading _Arsenal_.

    * The font chosen for _Arsenal_ reflects a recognition that it is written for an educated audience, those with a bit of maturity and also Islamic studies under the belt.

    * Kindle version will be forthcoming. I just needed a break before formatting it. The desktop publishing was labor intensive and something new for me.

    * I have been invited to join various power blog entities over the years, the journalism PAC's. I remain solo flight by choice.

    Thanks in advance, to all who purchase _Arsenal_ and allow me take you into a cryptographic journey into the mind.

    Tammy Swofford

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  12. Thanks AOW for letting us know, sounds good.

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  13. A book review. How do you find the time with everything else you have to do?

    Thanks for your comments over at my place. I appreciate what you have to say and left responses. This is the tail end of the last one in case that intrigues you enough to look:

    "I'm not an atheist, though I used to be. I simply found the difference between true spirituality, and religion."

    Have a wonderful day!

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  14. Black Sheep,
    How do you find the time with everything else you have to do?

    I'm a product of the one room schoolhouse and of a family whose mother was disabled by cardiac issues, so I learned time-management skills early on.

    I do wish that I had more time to exercise, though. That's one aspect of my life that has fallen by the wayside since Mr. AOW had his stroke. **sigh**

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  15. From your description, I know I would enjoy reading "Arsenal". let me know if it is ever translated into Spanish and maybe I can find it here. Living without a credit card limits my options.

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  16. I just checked our LAME (Lane) Public Library's online catalogue to see if this novel was available...

    Nope. In fact, NOTHING by this author.

    However, you can find ONE copy of most classic literature (some of which are considered reference and therefore not allowed to be checked out), a gazillion copies of the latest Patterson tripe and any DVD action flick from the 90's that you can shake a stick at. Sheesh.

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  17. Arsenal is Tammy Swofford's first novel and self-published. Public libraries won't have the book.

    Our public library here will not accept gifts of materials until they are on a bestseller list. But the library system is DELIGHTED to stock novels that aren't worth reading at all -- IF the author is a bestseller.

    As for the classics, well, the SAT no longer uses passages from the classics. The SAT Literature Test does, but not the regular SAT test.

    In my view, our society is devolving on so many levels, Brooke.

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  18. Arsenal en Espanol? No he pensado de escribir en Espanol o traducir mi libro en lenguaje diferente de my lengua de nacimiento. Pero es un buen idea!

    La dificultad sera en presentar porciones de Sayyid Qutb en espanol. Pero ahorra existe Koran en espanol.

    Con Sinceridad,

    Tammmy Swofford

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  19. Definitely writing this title down and will be searching for it on Amazon along with the sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, hee...

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  20. “'Just as we are to recite the Qur’an in a measured tone, we must also move in a measured and quiet manner in the West. We do not move as a lion, but we move as a panther'” (19)."

    Oh, come on now...we all know that is "out of context" and islam is perfectly harmless! (kidding...just a little sarcasm there)

    Am tempted to get the book; thanks for the recommendation, ALways :-)
    Congratulations, Ms Swofford!

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  21. That sounds really good, AOW. I may have to take a look at that one.

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  22. Don't you mean concise rather than minimalist?

    Minimalists are attempting to remove as much context as possible while retaining some meaning.

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  23. Duck,
    You bring up a good point.

    The writing style is actually BETWEEN concise and minimalist.

    In some respects, Swofford's writing style reminds me of some of Hemingway's work, but not in an imitative sort of way as Swofford has not read much Hemmingway.

    When I was trying to describe the writing style of Arsenal, I found THIS SITE.

    Anyway, Swofford's writing style is somewhere between that of Steinbeck and Hemingway.

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  24. Those who frequent this web site know that I rarely write book reviews.

    I read A Lot, but most of what I read isn't worthy of the bandwidth to review those materials.

    Arsenal is a refreshing exception to most of the garbage being churned out in the fiction market today.

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  25. Your "Eliminate Learning Facts?" post has comments disabled. Don't know if you meant to do that...

    Also, the link to the article is broken. It should be:

    http://psych.stanford.edu/~lera/papers/sci-am-2011.pdf

    Interesting article, btw!

    Reminded me of an essay by George Orwell. He wasn't a scientist, but he intuitively grasped what the researchers in the article quantified scientifically.

    Here is Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language:"

    http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

    The first part is practical writing advice and lamentations over unclear writing, but gets into the language-thought dynamic towards the end.

    Excellent post!

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  26. Silverfiddle,
    I have now allowed for comments on "Eliminate Learning Facts?"

    Thanks for letting me know about the Blogger glitch. I didn't not check off that little circle for comments. Somehow, Blogger did. **sigh**

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  27. Why'd you disable posts on your most recent article?

    I just wanted to comment, that w/o FACTS to remember, one's longer-term ABILITY to store and remember any facts (memory) is also diminished. With brains and neurons, its' either "use it, or lose it!" You either build the infrastruture for storing memories in early childhood.... or you don't. Billions of neurons soon are reduced to mere "millions".

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  28. Thersites & Silverfiddle,
    If you don't mind, please copy and paste the comments you made to this thread to the thread above.

    I've fixed the Blogger glitch now.

    As I think back, I had a brower crash while I was posting the entry about "Facts," so Blogger must have burped.

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  29. Blogger, stop glitching. I know your free, but please work... occassionally...

    Anyways, I like the look of this. When it comes for Kindle I am so buying it. Hopefully I will be able to understand all it... but this sounds worth any research needed for understanding.

    -Wildstar

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  30. Wildstar,
    As of yesterday, Arsenal is available on Kindle.

    Some of the terms in the novel may be new to you. But, hey, Google search will solve any puzzlement about those terms!

    Or, you can contact me for any necessary definitions. **wink**

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