In Joseph’s Seed, first-time author Neil DeRosa takes the reader on an adventurous tour through the present-day Middle East, with its Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestinian problem. But he also depicts a fictionalized Middle East, as it might be in the future. The difference between the actual and the possible is in the hands of the main characters.
It is mostly in the hands of the Arab Prince Mustapha, a pro-Western Moslem moderate who stands to reverse the tide of militant Islam. Against Mustapha stands the messianic King Bandar, who is determined to bring about a new Islamist Empire. Neither Mustapha, nor the handful of Westerners who assist him, can reverse the course of history without the massive support of the Bedouins of Arabia. Underneath the layer of action-packed adventure novel, there is a genuine belief in the judiciousness of the Bedouins as freedom loving "noble nomads."
In his characterization, DeRosa skillfully transcends the stereotype of Arabs as a homogenous collective of anti-Western fanatics. The reader is provided with individual Arab characters, each with his own motives and decisions. There is the unscrupulous businessman Hijazi Ashamary, who first sides with Bandar out of envy for the West, but changes his course when faced with the reality of Bandar's policies. There is the Israeli-Arab honor student who becomes a historian at a British University and devotes his mind to concocting revisionist theories. There is Shareef, the Egyptian nationalist who declares that Egyptians are not Arabs and never will be.
The story focuses on the Arabs, but Israel's existence is a central moral issue, dividing the Arabs into those who oppose it in the name of Islam and those who support it as a potential Western ally. In a memorable scene, the villain is riding an Israeli bus, contemplating the destruction of the Jewish State, while the radio is playing the Israeli song Et hamangina hazot ee-efshar lehafsik... ("This melody cannot be stopped...")
The fast-paced plot and well-drawn scenes have the immediacy of a movie. On the first page, you are in the Arabian Desert with American salesman Frank Costello, stranded with a broken-down car and no water. Later on, you witness Frank's wife Debbie attacked by the Saudi modesty police, and rescued by a mysterious American with a German-sounding name. Debbie is the only major female character in this all-male adventure novel. She is out to avenge her brother’s death, with her stunning beauty as her only weapon, but accomplishes a lot more than she bargained for. As a defiant, modern woman, she wreaks havoc in this strictly Moslem land.
In spite of the oppressive political and cultural atmosphere, the characters have sufficient freedom to make moral choices. Some of them do and redeem themselves; others do not, and condemn themselves. Personal responsibility is the leitmotif of the novel. Frank Costello learns it the hard way, believing that business is business anywhere, regardless of the nature of the clients. He is the archetype of the naive pragmatist in for a rude awakening.
Joseph's Seed uses the style of a Western/thriller to tell a story with moral and philosophical implications. History has arrived at a crucial turning point; the fate of Western Civilization is at hand. At times, the style cannot handle the scope of the issues involved. Still, it is a good try.
The best-kept secret in the novel is the identity of the arch villain, a secretive mastermind of terrorism who goes by the name Baal Baaz (“Lord of the Hawks”). He maintains his legendary status by keeping his cronies guessing who he really is. But even as the identity of Baal Baaz is revealed, the novel ends on the note of an unavoidable question: Can anything like that happen in the Middle East? Will it?
Michelle Fram Cohen, a native of Israel, has lived in the United States since 1981. She holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature and works as a computer programmer, as well as a freelance translator and writer. Her writings have been published in Navigator, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and Full Context. She currently resides in Maryland with her husband and son.