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Since I was first introduced to Taita the Slave in River God (which I had bought as a birthday present for Dad), I have been a confirmed devotee of Wilbur Smith's and have devoured his many works. From ancient Egypt, through the historical chronicles of the Courteney and the Ballantyne families to his more modern works, Smith writes swashbuckling, boys-own adventure tales peopled by brave and handsome heroes and feisty beautiful women who despite their independence, always swoon for the aforesaid heroes. Smith is pure escapism for which he is to be highly commended! I find shopping for books in second hand stores to be immensely therapeutic, lifting, flicking through, digging around at the back of the shelf for some unexpected treasure is simply my idea of fun (I don't get out much....!) I found Eagle in the Sky in the back of one such book store, and after double checking that I hadn't read it already (which has happened a couple of times with Smith), I paid a couple of quid for it, went home and buried my nose deep in its pages. I discovered a story that was interesting to me on two levels and I am going to review it as such - firstly on the basis of the story told and secondly, as what I thought to be an interesting historical document. David Morgan is, like many of Smith's protagonists, born into a life of luxury. Exceptionally handsome and exceedingly rich, it is expected that he will assume a place on the board of the family business as soon as he is an adult. Instead, headstrong David decides to join the South African Air Force (South Africa is another of Smith's constant themes) and becomes a fighter pilot flying Mirage jets. Upon completing a 5 year stint in the Air Force, David decides to go and see the world and whilst doing so meets Deborah, a beautiful, feisty and independent Israeli girl with whom David immediately falls in love. After wandering around Europe for a bit longer, David ine
vitably ends up in Jerusalem, is drafted into the Israeli Air Force and gets it on with Deborah. Even Smith is not that straightforward however! A terrorist attack kills Deborah's sister in law and leaves Deborah herself blinded and unwilling to maintain contact with David who in a subsequent act of vengeance gets Deborah's brother killed and is burned beyond recognition. After getting back together with Deborah, the action moves back to South Africa and trails off into a fairly nondescript, unlikely and ultimately disappointing ending. Now this is all fairly standard Smith stuff - if you like the genre, you won't be disappointed and if you can't stand it, then you won't be converted to it by this offering (read River God instead - simply incredible). From a historical point of view however, this has a an additional level of interest. Eagle in the Sky was published in 1974 at a time when Israel had just been embroiled in the Yom Kippur War. This was the conflict, 6 years after the 6 Day War, in which the Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish Calendar. The attack came within a whisker of success and had it been successful there would not be an Israel in the Middle East today. This was written in the days before the refugee problem, before suicide bombers and settlers in the occupied territories, in the days when Israel had drawn on resources to somehow overcome incredible odds to win two wars which by any military standards should have wiped it from the map. There was, as a result a certain romanticism attached to Israel which has long since disappeared, being replaced by the image of Israel as a bullying aggressor. This book captures that long vanished, romantic image of Israel, in a way similar to Leon Uris' Exodus and to an extent James Michener's The Source. I have a profound interest in anything to do with Is
rael and found myself surprised to be reminded of the way in which it was once viewed by the world. Smith is a mainstream author with no particular connection to Israel that I am aware of, but within these pages, Israel and Jerusalem are written about in glowing terms that would only be used today by the most ardent Zionist. My impression is that Smith just happened to choose a subject at that particular time in his writing career which captured a particular moment in Israel's history. It stands, to me as a fascinating contrast to the way in which the majority of the world views the tiny State of Israel today and therefore as an interesting and revealing document to anyone who has an interest in the history of the horrific ongoing conflict that captures so many headlines for all the wrong reasons. Despite its disappointing ending, this book is certainly worth a look at in its own right to fans of Smith's genre. If you have an interest in the Middle East, it is possible that you'll find my additional angle to be a bonus.