An American writer, James Axton, living in Greece in the early 1980s who has the talent to write great works of fiction but ended up writing risk analysis reports for a business that issues insurance to corporations at risk of terrorist attack in the Middle East and North Africa. He is estranged from his wife and young son and is generally living the life of a lonely and unhappy expatriate. Among his circle of friends is a man named Owen, who in his twilight years has a fascination with language, symbols and signs. It is through Owen that James learns of a fundamentalist cult who sees language as an instrument of oppression and they rebel against it by killing people. Since people are carriers of language, by killing them you destroy their capacity to use language.
This is only part of the story here. Language, the politics of Empire, the intricacies of relationships, all of this comes together in a very complicated but thoroughly enjoyable read. This is not an easy read. There are such complex issues and connections here that you have to take your time with it, ingest it, but DeLillo’s prose style is such that it doesn’t bog the reader down with “heavy” leaden prose. He brings you right along, particularly his strength in character development, itself very complex.
This is only the second novel by Don DeLillo that I have read and I’m definitely impressed and it seems his style by this point had grown by leaps and bounds since his debut, “Americana.” He is clearly a writer I look forward to reading more of and I would highly recommend this book. Keep in mind it is not an easy “beach read.” Although there are elements of a thriller here, it is more in the background, behind all the complex explorations of the nature and politics of language.