CEO and Washington D.C. insider James Sands has made billions by privatizing bankrupt municipal water supplies, but his command of a dwindling resource infuriates citizen and environmental groups. When his partner is assassinated by the shadowy Army of the Republic, Sands begins to lose control of his company and his life. Desperate to save his empire, he turns to Whitehall Security, the massive private intelligence firm with far-reaching political connections. For a steep monthly fee, Whitehall will hunt down and destroy the enemies of Sands’ enterprise, and disrupt any civil organizations that still oppose him.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, a guerilla named Lando leads The Army of the Republic on a dangerous campaign against the alliance of big business and government. Charismatic, cunning, and driven, Lando is obsessed with the idea of saving the country from itself, no matter what.
Lando’s reluctant ally is savvy political organizer Emily Cortwright, coordinator of a network of civil action groups that seek to inspire a mass movement powerful enough to overthrow the corrupt ruling party. But when peaceful public protests quickly give way to violence, Lando, Emily, and James Sands become lost in a welter of assumed identities and conflicting loyalties. With increasing intensity, rife with secret lives, deadly compromises, and false identities, all of them struggle to both redeem and destroy the people they love most.
Powerful, disturbing, and unforgettable, The Army of the Republic is a brilliant novel about what it means to live in a democracy.
John really enjoyed The Army of the Republic and gave the book a 4.5 star rating (title links to John’s review.) So naturally when offered the chance to ask a few question of the author, as well as including a guest post and a giveaway, we jumped at the chance. It is a pleasure to share our favorite books to Layers of Thought’s readers. Below John asks Stuart Archer Cohen a few questions.
Lets welcome the author – Thank you Stuart!
1. The America you create in your novel seems far-fetched and yet plausible. Were you prompted to write the story by a real fear that America truly could become the extreme authoritarian state that you describe?
Yes, though I don’t think of the authoritarian state being portrayed in the book as being particularly extreme. Extreme is like El Salvador or Argentina, where tens of thousands of people are being systematically murdered by the state. The America of The Army of the Republic is a corporate cornucopia that’s run dry, and where a moderate degree of violence and the threat of violence is required to keep the system going and to keep funneling the remaining money to the top. I don’t think that’s far-fetched at all. I think we were close to it with Bush/Cheney, and I think if the Far Right is successful in taking power again, we could get there fairly quickly.
2. Reading The Army of the Republic, I was struck by how media manipulation can be such a powerful tool of unscrupulous governments. As a novelist, what do you think is the role of creative writers in getting alternative messages across to the public?
One of the primary things that motivated me to write the book was a fascination with propaganda. It amazed me to see people believing things that were obviously untrue, and I was interested in what that said about human nature. That brought in all those themes about the Bible and sacred text, because I think it’s all related. Anything that happens on a social level has to happen in people’s minds first, and in my book I try to trace that all the way through.
I can’t say that novelists have an obligation to write about social and political issues, but I personally seem to be drawn more and more in that direction. Politics is so intricately involved with how people see themselves and their place in the world, and the degree of fantasy involved just leaves endless fodder for fiction. Also, as a person, I just can’t turn my back on the decline of a great Republic.
Novels can explore ideas with a certain degree of freedom and get people to try on viewpoints they wouldn’t otherwise consider. I had hoped to do that with AOR, and I tried to write it in a way that wouldn’t tag it as either Left or Right. I just tried to make it human. I’ve had some degree of success with that, especially in the Libertarian community, though there are certain people you just can’t reach, because their world-view is completely different
Do novelists get alternative ideas out to the public? To some degree, but it doesn’t compare to the massive propaganda efforts being undertaken daily.
3. One of the things I really liked about your book was the way that political tensions within the country were paralleled by personal tensions within a single family. I’ve also seen you state that revolutions often pit one generation against another. Do you have a radically different view of the world than your parents? Or your sons?
I think I share a lot of my parents’ world-view. My father always distrusted authority. In WW2 he was busted back to Private twice. He understood that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and that it’s not an accident. At the same time, my parents generation believed that for all its flaws, the government was of the people and was competent to address the nation’s problems. After all, the US Government had saved the world from Fascism. That’s why they bought Bush’s Iraq war WMD argument hook, line and sinker: they couldn’t conceive that their government would make up lies out of whole cloth to pursue what was essentially an imperial business deal.
The big difference between my parents and I is that their generation didn’t recognize the power of the global corporation. They were coming out of WW2, when the only global power left was the governments of the US and the Soviet Union. My generation has seen Corporations rise to challenge the power of elected government itself, from within (Hank Paulson, Dick Cheney, Robert Rubin) and without (Fox News, billionaires Olin and Scaife, US Chamber of Commerce). While I share my parents’ belief that our government is essentially well-meaning, my generation realizes, from Left or Right, that the top tiers of government have become corrupted to the point where it is in danger of becoming something fundamentally different than what we inherited. That struggle between corporate and citizen power has been around since the 1890’s, but we citizens have been losing pretty steadily since the 1980’s.
My children are 12 and 14. I think they’ll have the same faith in the potential of government, but they realize that they’ve had a ton of shit dumped on their plate. Much worse, though, is that many other people’s children will likely grow up hating and distrusting the government on a knee-jerk level, due to the concerted anti-government campaign being waged since Ronald Reagan first attacked the government in his1980 presidential campaign. I think that’s really sad, and the consequences will be significant.
4. You’ve said that The Army of the Republic was a difficult and time-consuming novel to write. Are you planning a follow up or a similarly themed book?
After The Army of the Republic I was exhausted by politics and big social issues, and I just wanted to write something more intimate, like my first novel, Invisible World. My new book is about a faded rock star who’s lost all his money, a fugitive American financier living large in Shanghai, and a middle-aged carpenter in Alaska who, one afternoon, goes on an epic heroic quest. It’s about alternate lives: the ones we could have lived, think we should have lived. Nevertheless, you see some of the same issues of AOR in the lives of the characters: right wing propaganda seeping in at the job site, diminished lives, untouchable elites. It’s not what the book is really about, though.
Besides that, I wrote a very inappropriate children’s book about dinosaurs on a crime spree. Nothing like watching a couple of 12 year olds pulling off an armored car heist!
5. I just love the book covers – especially the one with a masked character and a Molotov cocktail. Did you play any part in creating or choosing the covers?
St. Martins was great and they did run the covers by me. That being said, the artist deserves all the credit. I worship the guy!
Thanks so much Stuart for answering John’s questions.
Why I Wrote The Army of the Republic.
Like a lot of novelists, I usually write about things that won’t leave me alone. You have to really be interested in something to spend a few years with it every day, pursuing it around a dozen curves and into a hundred dead ends, only to have it disappear just when you think you’ve got it.
The idea of revolution had been kicking around in my head and my journals ever since my first trip to Central and South America in 1984, a fact that wasn’t looked on very kindly by the Salvadoran military when they arrested me and translated everything I had on my first eventful trip south. I remember that incident clearly, especially being blindfolded and interrogated for eight hours at the San Salvador jail, and thinking, “This guy with the black shoes . . . ” (I could see a tiny slit of the floor through the bottom of the blindfold) “He seems nice, just a cop doing his job, but that one with the brown loafers, he’s bad news. He’s one of those death-squad guys.” And that perception, correct or incorrect, of the mixture of perfectly decent people and rather evil people, thrown together by a bad situation, stayed with me.
A lot of other questions from my early South American trips stayed with me. Was it ever justified to kill for a better world? And how in the world did a bunch of college students and young professionals, which is what revolutionaries usually are, ever acquire the will and the skills to take on their own country? As I watched the drift of our country towards an authoritarian Corporate state that reminded me of some of the governments I’d seen in Latin America, I felt a deeper and deeper urgency to address those questions for an American audience. I began the rough draft in 2004, finishing the book in about three years.
The research was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I accumulated a shelf full of interesting books: how to form a new identity, improvised explosives, surveillance and body guarding. Also many thick books in Spanish about Argentine urban guerrillas of the 70’s, which I rounded out with interviews in Buenos Aires. In addition to that, I talked to organizers of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, student activists, 1960’s activists, CIA people and assorted others. Unlike the research for my previous novel, which came together in a few exhilarating weeks, the research for AOR was difficult and, at times, disturbing.
I heard a CIA “janitor” describing his disposal of a rogue death-squad leader in Central America, as well as an Argentine revolutionary recounting his part in a legendary prison break in Patagonia, which culminated in his freedom and his wife’s execution by the military. When the subject is Revolution, heroism is invariably mixed with pain, and it’s hard to ask people to recount some of the most fearsome moments of their lives. Some simply don’t want to talk about it, some revel in the past. For others, the past is never quite past. I chanced into a Montonero memorial service in Buenos Aires for a comrade who’d been murdered by the military 30 years before. All the people were in their 50s, or older, and there was a feeling of great sadness there, even after all that time. I remember them doing a little invocation I’d read about, where they said his name, then “Presente! Para ahora, y para siempre!” and it was deeply moving, just as a simple human cry of idealism and loss.
There’s another, deeper element than politics in The Army of the Republic, though. What struck me about revolution is the way it so often pits on generation against another. For that reason, the book became not simply about ideas, but about a family divided against itself. At the book’s heart is the Sands family, fabulously wealthy and deeply dysfunctional. James Sands, Regime crony and billionaire, revels in the brilliance and entrepreneurship that has enabled him to build a massive corporation. His wife, Ann, is appalled at his vanished idealism, while his son is outraged at his corruption and determined to bring him back to his earlier roots, by destroying him, if necessary. The Sands family is a metaphor for the American family in the 21st century, pitted Conservative vs. Liberal, Right vs. Left, Corporate vs. Citizen, confused and angry and wondering how things went so wrong.
I’m not sure how many of the questions I began with in 2004 I ever really answered. Is it justified to kill for a better world? Maybe, sometimes. Not very often. I did finish the book with a new sense of America, of the fragility of its dreams and of a certain nobility beneath its coarse, superficial surface. In the end, that’s what the book is really about, rather than revolution or politics or the love that holds it together. I suppose that’s what I was trying to understand when I began writing it.
Stuart Archer Cohen lives in Juneau, Alaska, where he owns Invisible World, an international company dealing in wool, silk, alpaca and cashmere in Asia and South America. His previous two novels, Invisible World and 17 Stone Angels, have been translated into 10 languages.
Now for the Giveaway:
You do not have to be a “follower/reader” for this giveaway. Anyone can enter, you however must have a US address to have the book shipped to.
To enter you must:
- include in the post your email so that I can contact you
For optional extra points you can do any, or all of the below for 1 entry point each. All entries may be included in one single comment.
- Be a subscriber of Layers of Thought – google or facebook. (I need to be able to see you – and to get updates in facebook feed add me (Shellie) as a friend otherwise it does not count.)
- Blog it - side bars are great - please provide links
- Tweet it – provide links please
- Friend on Twitter
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- Friend on Glue - new to glue? have questions? let me know.
As state above, this giveaway is to US addresses only.
Contest ends Thursday June 17, 2010 at 12 pm US Pacific time. Winner will be posted and notified on Monday June 21, 2010.
Good luck everyone and thanks for reading Layers of Thought!