One of the best-known opening lines in an American novel is “Call me Ishamel.” (At least I think it’s one of the best-known opening lines.) The opening line of Andy Owen’s short novel Invective is something similar, and meant to imply something of the same meaning: “You can call me Ishmael.”
Ishmael, of course, was the son of Abraham by Hagar, the servant of his wife Sarah. It is through Ishmael whom many of the Arab peoples are descended, while the Jewish people descended from Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah. One son received Abraham’s blessing; one did not. In fact, Ishamel was banished with his mother, and nearly died in the desert.
The Ishmael of Invective is in something of a similar situation; he is seriously injured and possibly dying in the desert as well, but it’s a different time and a different desert. As he lies there with death and destruction around him, his mind moves back to how he came to be in this position in the first place.
Raised by parents in Birmingham, England, who are of Indian ancestry, Ishmael is studying to be a doctor. He comes to learn that he is adopted and the son of a Muslim suicide bomber. And he begins to investigate who his father was, which brings him into two shadowy worlds – that of radical Islam and that of Britain’s counter-terrorism efforts.
Owen has also written East of Coker, another story of war and its aftermath, using elements of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets to structure and develop the story. With Invective, that arresting opening ties this story to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, with “the great white whale” being terrorism and its counterpart.
Invective is s a story right off the front pages of todays newspapers.
Using T.S. Eliot to Explain PTSD – my review of Owen’s East of Coker at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Top photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.