Book Review – “The Aswan Affair” by Graham Greene

“COLORS OF AN OLD BELLA” is set in the gritty, yet stylish downtown district of Beirut in the late 1950s. With the escalating tension between Israel and Lebanon following the Yom Kippur War, a Hezbollah-rosy warlord named Menachem may have taken over the old administrative offices of the former UNHAID in uptown Beirut. In the backdrop is the busy, crowded streets and buildings of the old city.

The story centers on a middle-aged, octogenarian retired businessman who has moved back to occupy the vacant office space after retirement. Reassured by his political connections in the government and his military contacts, he sets out to begin a new life in a new town. But things don’t go well. He struggles to adapt to life in the UFA where he struggles to adjust to the different customs, traditions and language of the locals. His attempts to communicate with the Americans fail. Meanwhile, a radical Islamic group known as “al Qaeda in Lebanon” (AA) splashes its warplanes against both US and Israeli warplanes.

A | : The Lebanese Civil War broke out just as America was getting ready to pull out its troops from Vietnam and withdraw all support from the Middle East. At the time, there were also tensions between Egypt and Israel over the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt had captured the strategic airport at Aswan and was threatening to take over the tunnels at Kilo Prison. Israel was not yet prepared to face a rebel army backed by hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, APCs, bulldozers and aircraft on its own. All that ended in the Yom Kippur War.

A: A private detective in the U.S.A., A.J. Smith is called in to the scene to investigate the murder of a prominent Christian intellectual. Smith becomes the key witness against the accused. A rather large chunk of the novel is devoted to the plot and what actually transpires between Smith and the killer, while the other half is largely devoted to Smith’s family and how he deals with his own emotions and the grief that follows.

Al Qaeda in Lebanon: The stakes are high. The place is Aswan. Smith has become a confidential agent and has to report directly to his superiors. His source tells him that the leader of al Qaeda has just died. Smith thus finds himself in a quandary: do he get to kill the terrorist leader, or does he tell the American ambassador about the information?

Aswan is a strategic position on the edge of the Lebanese plain. The area has been completely destroyed by the warring parties and a large part of the plain has been largely emptied of homes, business buildings and other buildings that are completely cut off from the rest of the world. Smith’s access to electricity is also cut off. He thus has no means of communications. He meets with a group of fellow travellers who are part of an international relief agency that operates out of a warehouse in Aswan.

The warehouse is taken over by Smith’s employers, an Australian company called Hydro Graphics. Smith is given the task of reorganizing the business, but he soon discovers that the reorganization is also a cover for a secret operation they are running in the area. The operation consists of hundreds of employees and is funded by Hydro Graphics. Smith soon finds out that the true nature of the Hydro Graphics business is very complex.

Smith is also required to investigate the possible causes of a new contagious disease which has swept through the area. This leads him to an interesting location where a local tribe is holding a huge party to celebrate the new government. Smith is allowed to stay at the party and he soon gets into the thick of things. The novel is highly entertaining and even educational at times as Smith uncovers some of the finer points of political and military intelligence operations.