JACKSONVILLE, FL. July 19, 2012 — The essence of a good book is whether or not it raises the right questions. The answer to an irrelevant question is of little consequence. Pondering a pertinent question is far more beneficial even if the answer remains elusive. Enter Luke Montgomery…
His debut thriller A Deceit To Die For is a fascinating tapestry of suspense, art and history. As a fast-paced contemporary novel that keeps readers engaged and guessing right up to the end, it is an unmitigated success.
But, it is more than just mind candy. The storyline revolves around a number of historical subplots and wrestles with timeless questions about culture, creed and the political exploitation of humanity’s most central theme - faith.
As an expert on Middle-Eastern culture and Islam who spent over a decade in the Middle East, Mr. Montgomery writes with amazing authority and is clearly a student of religion and politics. It is clear from his recent writings that he keeps a close eye on developments in his beloved Turkey.
I had an opportunity this week to sit down with Mr. Montgomery and talk about his life, his writing and his philosophy.
INTERVIEW WITH LUKE MONTGOMERY
There’s an oft-quoted adage to the effect that writers should write what they know, not what they love. But I got the feeling while reading A Deceit To Die For that this is something you both know and love. Am I wrong?
No. On the contrary, you are spot on. And this is not exactly a confession I’m proud of. This story is one that has been tugging at my mind for years. A sort of nameless apparition haunting my soul, and yet I have developed a strange fondness for this specter. It is something I ran from for years, but one cannot run forever. In A Deceit To Die For, I stopped running.
Stopped running? Running from what?
Reality. The terrible truth that what people hold most sacred is vulnerable in the extreme. Vulnerable to political manipulation. I can think of nothing as repulsive as using religion for political purposes. Yet, it seems to be a constant in the story of humanity.
Several reviews have compared your book to Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code. Is that a comparison you are happy with?
It’s hard not to see the religion-conspiracy parallel. I’m happy that readers put me in the same class.
But Brown has been criticized for misleading readers by suggesting that some fictional aspects of his story were in fact true. How much of the historical background in your book is factual?
Every smidgeon, which is why my novel is a significant departure from Brown’s fanciful approach. It was extremely important to me that historical facts be represented accurately. A novel that twists historical fact may achieve popularity by appealing to certain popular sentiments but it is a disservice to humanity and a blatant affront to the historian. Let’s be honest. Many readers of popular fiction are not particularly discriminating.
You mentioned Mr. Brown’s novel The Da Vinci code. This novel is wildly popular in the Middle East where anti-Christian propaganda is already endemic. Many believe that Dan Brown’s book is gospel truth presented as fiction just to protect the author from being eliminated by the Vatican. People find it easy to believe propositions they already hope to be true. Like Western secularists, Muslims believe the church is a hotbed of corruption. It is an easy sell there.
Now, the Church will find few people as critical of her mistakes as I am, but enough genuine fault and corruption exists already. We don’t need to make it up. The waters of history are muddy enough without introducing falsehood for the sake of sensationalism.
We often hear that history is the account of events written by the victors. The assertion is meant to discredit history, yet the proposition itself is patently false. One need look no further than the Native American story to see this. They were not the victors and yet we know a great deal about the wrongs done to them.
In reading the book, I was particularly struck by your respect for humanity as a whole. The emphasis on human universals is a frequent theme. I felt that you were trying to shy away from and even shoot down stereotypes while still recognizing the impact that cultural differences have upon us.
I would argue that no influence shapes us as much as our culture. This is hardly controversial. The more interesting question is what shapes culture? The broadest answer is, of course, human nature. There are clearly human universals.
For example, humans have an innate moral sense, which, of course, explains why the basic moral code in every religion and society is the same. Honest atheists like Steven Pinker have argued that this is somehow genetically encoded and that it must have evolved because it granted our species certain advantages. A Christian theologian, on the other hand, would claim it is the fingerprint of the divine, that people have an innate sense of justice and morality because they are created in the image of God.
If the broad answer to culture is human nature; the narrow answer is most assuredly ideas. Nothing is as powerful, liberating or dangerous as an idea. It is at this point that cultures diverge. The paradigm that prevails in culture shapes its destiny. It either exalts or debases a nation.
I lived in the Middle East for over a decade. It is not a place where civil liberties and especially Western individualism have gained a great deal of traction and yet I have never met a people as generous as the Turkish people. Their paradigms certainly had a huge influence on me and my development.
You dedicated the book to the Turkish people.
That’s right. For over a decade, I lived and breathed Turkish culture. The Turks opened their hearts to me. They were unbelievably accepting and tolerant. Anatolia will always be my second home.
A major theme in your novel is the Gospel of Barnabas, a book depicting the life of Jesus and purporting to be written by one of his earliest followers. I was surprised to see the persistent Muslim connection. What is going one here?
That’s a spoiler question!… Let me just say that the Gospel of Barnabas is widely viewed in the Middle East as the truest copy of the sayings of Jesus. Reports of new discoveries of this text have popped up consistently over the last 40 years. Pakistani newspapers have run lengthy excerpts of this Gospel on the front page. In Iran, a producer has even made a ‘Jesus Film’ based on this gospel.
There is only one complete extant copy of the book and it is held in the National Library of Austria in Vienna. The library was kind enough to give me complete access to this document. It was amazing to hold this bit of history in my hands. Today, we know enough about the circumstances surrounding this unique text to reconstruct the story, but it has been a long time coming.
The story of this incredible manuscript is every bit as interesting as the novel itself. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave it at that and let readers experience the thrill of discovery on their own.
You’ve written several articles about the anti-liberal stance of Turkey Islamist government, most recently covering pianist Fazıl Say and journalist Ahmet Şık. But apparently you’ve had your own issues. I saw on your blog that your author website has been blocked for some time now in Turkey. Is there a connection?
Well, there is no connection with my writing about the difficulties those individuals face because the block on my website predates those articles. There is, however, an ideological connection. The current government is not known for its tolerance.
This is a country where the Prime Minister sues cartoonists for unflattering caricatures. Dozens of senior military officers are languishing in prison in connection with the Ergenekon case, a government “anti-terrorism” operation. It has already been demonstrated that material evidence in this case was fabricated. This is disconcerting.
World-renowned classical pianist Fazıl Say is facing charges for insulting Islam. Freedom of the press has deteriorated. All of these are unacceptable in an open, free society.
It would be easy to say that all of this was due to the current government’s Islamic roots, but that would be unfair. The preceding secular governments were not very different. In short, the cultural war is not unique to America and it is waged much more openly in Turkey.
As I said earlier, ideas are powerful. There is nothing governments fear more than a revolutionary idea. They can be liberating for those living in bondage, but just as dangerous to those who benefit from the status quo. I suppose my book hits a little too close to home and that is why the website is being blocked.
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