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No victory, only desire

Author: Robert Tombs
Newspaper: The Times Literary Supplement
Date: May 14 2019
URL: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/private/time-historical-novel/

Hear Our Defeats is not a conventional historical novel, in the sense of trying to recreate the past imaginatively. Rather, it draws on a series of past episodes, from four discrete epochs – deliberately separated in time and place – to convey a message about time, violence and humanity.

Most of it is set in the present. It revolves round two characters who are initially brought together by a brief sexual encounter that marks them both, but which neither attempts to renew. One, Mariam, is a beautiful Iraqi archaeologist. The other, Assem, is a hit man for the French secret service whose love of Constantine Cavafy’s poetry impresses Mariam, who secretly leaves him an ancient statue as a memento. Assem’s mission is to find and, if necessary, eliminate an American secret service agent who may have gone rogue after being involved in the accidental bombing . . .