From Vietnam to Pakistan, writers have long turned to fiction to make sense of the news, often yielding uncanny portraits of real-life war, revolution, and cultural change. Here, Foreign Policy offers a sampler of novels that could have been straight out of the newspapers -- and sometimes even made them.
- By Margaret Slattery
Margaret Slattery is assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy, working primarily on FP's print magazine. A Los Angeles native and recent graduate of Yale University, where she majored in English, she has written for The New Republic and has studied in Leon, Spain.
Rudyard Kipling, 1901
In what is often considered his best novel, the Bombay-born Kipling unfolds the “panorama of India,” as a New York Times review said at the time, exposing the forces of Hinduism and imperialism in the British-ruled subcontinent.
The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck, 1931
For its depiction of a rural family in pre-communist China, this book won a Pulitzer, became a bestseller, and helped make Buck, who grew up in the village of Zhenjiang, the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature. Some argue the novel later helped Americans empathize with their Chinese allies during World War II.
The Quiet American
Graham Greene, 1955
This novel’s protagonist — a British war correspondent in French Indochina, as Greene himself was — clashes with an American official over a Vietnamese woman, in a narrative that presciently characterized the American presence in Vietnam. Greene, an acerbic critic of U.S. policy, was later tracked by the American government for 40 years.
Tim O’Brien, 1990
This series of linked stories about a U.S. platoon in Vietnam draws from the author’s own experiences as an infantryman, revealing a narrative that a Boston Globe review called “so searing and immediate you can almost hear the choppers in the background.”
The Yacoubian Building
Alaa Al Aswany, 2002
Aswany — a dentist and writer who helped give voice to protesters in Tahrir Square last year — won praise for this bestselling novel, a portrait of the cultural and political decay in Cairo that simmered to a boil in the recent revolution.
Scott Simon, 2005
After reporting on the Bosnian war for NPR, Simon debuted as a novelist with Pretty Birds — the tale of a half-Muslim 16-year-old girl in war-torn Sarajevo who trains to be a sniper as her family faces ethnic persecution.
What Is the What
Dave Eggers, 2006
John Updike, 2006
The plot of Updike’s 22nd novel reads like any number of post-9/11 news stories, tracing an American-born Muslim teenager’s alienation from his life in New Jersey and his turn toward religious fundamentalism.
John Arquilla earned his degrees in international relations from Rosary College (BA 1975) and Stanford University (MA 1989, PhD 1991). He has been teaching in the special operations program at the United States Naval Postgraduate School since 1993. He also serves as chairman of the Defense Analysis department.
Dr. Arquilla’s teaching interests revolve around the history of irregular warfare, terrorism, and the implications of the information age for society and security.
His books include: Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat and the International System (1992); From Troy to Entebbe: Special Operations in Ancient & Modern Times (1996), which was a featured alternate of the Military Book Club; In Athena’s Camp (1997); Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy (2001), named a notable book of the year by the American Library Association; The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror (2006); Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military (2008), which is about defense reform; Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World (2011); and Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy Choices for America’s Longest War (2012).
Dr. Arquilla is also the author of more than one hundred articles dealing with a wide range of topics in military and security affairs. His work has appeared in the leading academic journals and in general publications like The New York Times, Forbes, Foreign Policy Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired and The New Republic. He is best known for his concept of “netwar” (i.e., the distinct manner in which those organized into networks fight). His vision of “swarm tactics” was selected by The New York Times as one of the “big ideas” of 2001; and in recent years Foreign Policy Magazine has listed him among the world’s “top 100 thinkers.”
In terms of policy experience, Dr. Arquilla worked as a consultant to General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm, as part of a group of RAND analysts assigned to him. During the Kosovo War, he assisted deputy secretary of defense John Hamre on a range of issues in international information strategy. Since the onset of the war on terror, Dr. Arquilla has focused on assisting special operations forces and other units on practical “field problems.” Most recently, he worked for the White House as a member of a small, nonpartisan team of outsiders asked to articulate new directions for American defense policy.| Rational Security |