I was in grade school when a teacher introduced me to the idea that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Even my non-scientific mind was wakened to all sorts of possibilities, and a lively classroom discussion ensued. That was over fifty years ago, and I still remember it.
As I grow older—and I am growing older; has anyone noticed? As I grow older, I have begun to see that matter isn’t the only thing that hangs around forever. The consequences of our actions do, too. They reverberate through time and space and wash back to us at unexpected moments and in the oddest of places. It’s almost like a cosmic economy. The smallest action—a look or a word—can be carried in someone’s heart or memory, and, years later, you’ll find that a throwaway line you uttered had deep significance to that person, and you reap either satisfaction or shame, depending on the memory.
A variation on that idea is one of the themes of Tanya Parker Mills’ multiple-award-winning book The Reckoning. Set in the months just before America’s invasion of Iraq, it’s the story of Theresa Fuller, a journalist who lived in Iraq as a child and who sneaks across the northern border to write the story of Saddam Hussein’s humanitarian crimes against the Kurdish people. Captured, she is jailed as a spy.
Most of the book deals with Theresa’s time in prison and the privation and torture she endures there. Taut and beautifully written, it’s sometimes hard to read, but never dull and never unbelievable. It’s hard to read because we care about Theresa. Tanya Mills has done a good job of letting us know the realities of Abu Grabe when it was still in Iraqi hands (and there’s an irony!) without being unduly graphic.
Captain Tariq al-Awali, an Iraqi officer, is put in charge of Theresa’s imprisonment, and he becomes the only buffer between her and the cruel Colonel Badr’s repertoire of tortures. It is through her association with, and her growing attachment to, Captain al-Awali that Theresa learns a secret about her own father and, by extension, about herself. Cosmic economy reverberates through the last half of the book, echoing still on the very last page.
Tanya Mills writes what she knows. Her father worked for the United States Government, and she grew up overseas in Greece, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Did I already say The Reckoning is beautifully written? Wuuuuunderfully written. Tanya Parker Mills’ prose is the kind that a writer reads and thinks, “Why can’t I write like that?” The Reckoning was a 2008 Whitney Award finalist and a 2009 Indie Book Award winner.
I recommend The Reckoning most highly. It’s a window on the Iraqi people in the pre-Saddam era as well as a primer on how he came to power. But mostly, it’s a great story.
Check out the book trailer here. You can purchase The Reckoning on Amazon, either in hard copy or Kindle edition. Do it!
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