Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ruth Francisco's "Amsterdam 2020": Book Review

Amsterdam 2020
This sequel to Amsterdam 2012 continues the resistance by a few against the Islamist takeover of Eurabia. That first novel focused on America, despite starting in Amsterdam, where murders sparked a worldwide revolt that led to much of Europe capitulating to Muslim regimes and submission to their demands by the remaining Jews and Christians and secular residents. Among these, as well as some liberal Muslims, the Dutch fight back against the Islamic Republic of Holland. Here, Katrien, who converts with her family--as many do---takes the name Salima, but goes underground as Lina.

Her dual existence is of course complicated. The first novel made links between Ann Aulis in Southern California and Anne Frank, and similarly, another young woman--younger than Ann--faces the predicament of an arranged marriage with a leading kingpin from a prominent Turkish-Dutch Muslim clan. Teenaged Lina must face the challenge of the Resistance to infiltrate this family as a new bride, while trying to figure out the true motives of her husband, fifty-two year old Kazan.

On her author's blog, Ruth Francisco tells of finishing the book, started in 2013, in the past year of the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan murders, and the San Bernardino CA shootings. While many reviewed her first novel on Amazon and dismissed it as far-fetched or needlessly provocative, readers intrigued by the dystopian scenarios of Muslim domination imagined in Robert Ferrigno's Assassin trilogy or Michel Houellebecq's similarly barbed Submission (both authors' works reviewed by me) may welcome this. I found the writer's voice for Ann earlier and Lina here engaging, even if in this 2020 installment, the choice to make a transition between her narration and a third-person indirect for another key character sometimes a bit bewildering, as chronology is no longer straightforward.

The supporting figures get fleshed out more, as in Kazan's school friend at a Swiss academy, and humor in the pranks played there, or the "plucked and marinated" chicken the oiled and depilitated virginal Salima feels herself on her wedding day, offer some needed levity to a tense thriller. The delight Ruth Francisco has in plotting out the geopolitical and practical ramifications of Islamist social power gives her details more depth here, and from inside the divided Dutch culture, we understand the difficulty the Muslim authorities have in getting even their fellow congregants to submit to sharia law and all the puritanical trivia enforced on the Westernized Muslims themselves.

I also liked the Resistance scenes. Many of these were pitched for action more than insight, but how the burkas are deployed by men and women alike against the Islamic police and military makes for clever encounters. I felt there was more of an attempt by Ruth Francisco to delve into the intricacies of how an Islamic imposition would play out in daily life, and how individuals react and endure. Again, the parallels to Nazi occupation are evident, and the Dutch setting draws out "secret annexes" and hidden rooms, traditions still clung to by some Netherlanders, effectively to enhance a setting.

Suffice to say that Ruth Francisco slows down here to let us understand Kazan better, and how Lina (under more than one name or identity) relates to her new spouse. While as before some leaps in the tale-telling and the jumbled order challenge the reader, headings break up the chapters and dates are there to guide the confused. It's not perfect, but it's intelligent. This expands in dramatic fashion, more smoothly in a narrative than 2012 if bumpy as a thriller. (Chance meetings and just-in-time interventions make this a bit melodramatic at times.) The inherent interest in how Islamists might expand their caliphate and how those within it and from the outside might oppose it sustains itself. I am not sure of more to come is on the way from the Amsterdam series, but this is enjoyable. 
(Amazon US 1-12-16)

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