Monday, July 29, 2013

The black hand of La Cosa Nostra meets the sinister underworld of an equally Machiavellian, Mexican drug cartel. Where Faustino, an up and coming Wall Street stockbroker, is living his dream of wealth, status and power. A man who long ago swore himself to a single end: to escape like a pursued criminal the poison barbed tentacles of the poverty from which he arose. His success, is perpetually shadowed by Paul Banelli, best known as don Banelli, who reigns as the capo di tutti capi—boss of all bosses—of the ever notorious La Cosa Nostra.
His relationship with the Don turns precarious when Michelle Banelli—the precocious, pressing, and alluring only daughter of the mob boss—sets her sights on more than just fashion, high society, and, of course, being the apple of her father’s eye. She decides that for long enough her and Faustino have toyed with the faux indifference and lie that nothing more than a platonic, sibling-like affection exists between them. Her carelessness leads Faustino into a quagmire of blackmail, kidnapping and murder, where to survive he must forfeit the life and position he has worked so hard to attain. He now flees, not only poverty, but a vendetta, that will stop at nothing to devour him.
Faustino heads for the border, hoping to lose himself among his native roots: Mexico. In doing so he turns his back on everything, that up until now, has defined him; all to submerge and disguise himself in the very poverty he vowed never to return to. Where he soon finds himself tangled and quartered in between a friendship more akin to a brotherhood; an unspoken but ever-present debt of gratitude and fealty for don Banelli; a Mexican drug lord, Enrico Mezón, who despite being a sociopath, possesses the keys to his aegis; and finally, the mesmerizing niece of Enrico, who will stop at nothing to possess his affection, control his mind, and own his heart—a heart that little does she know belongs to another. Calling to task years of the Don’s tutelage, bringing to fruition a kind of iron-willed mental acuity of purpose and determination to overcome the jockeying oppositions threatening from every side. Learning first hand, that true greatness is never achieved outside of adversity.
With one hand he dips into the truth of his past, discovering a secret that up until now the Don has guarded with unflinching resolve; with the other he seizes the tainted opportunity from the blackened hand of the Mezón cartel: taking it upon himself to bridge a chasm of distrust, greed, and mutual animosity between two crime families. An endeavor that will demand his acquired acumen and finesse in finance along side the wicked statesmanship of Machiavelli himself, so as to appease two masters with one life. Suddenly he’s stuck in a tug-a-war between his own desires and a duty to a way of life not entirely his own. A way of life bound by Omerta, a code of silence and honor, where the only vindication from death.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

NAFTA’s Lie is Mexico’s Truth by Mario "El Gecko Gomez"

In November of 1993, the Clinton administration promoted a media Blitz on a two-thousand page bill set to impose momentous and unorthodox changes to the relationship between popular sovereignty and capitalism, with deferment going to the latter. The legislation was clandestinely drafted, without the benefit of public hearings or Democratic debate, then presented to the House of Representatives with a “fast-track” proviso that it be voted on without amendment and with only two days set aside for debate. The result was the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

At the time of this legislation I had just arrived at NYU from Mexico City to study finance and economics at Leonard N. Stern School of Business. NAFTA was a major topic of discussion in and out of classroom. Professors spoke of NAFTA as a breakthrough for economic progress bent towards the social political stability of the region; touted as a cure for “Mexico’s economic backwardness,” that would offer the chance for a more benign relationship between Mexico and its stronger northern neighbors. The agreement would help to offset Mexico’s problems of hyperinflation, foreign debate, unequal wealth distribution and political instability.

As the only Mexican national in my classes, I was often called upon by professors or classmates to validate the open assertion that the trilateral trade agreement would dig Mexico out of it’s economic rut.

I mostly nodded in agreement. After all, the way NAFTA was presented in both the media and the classroom made it sound reasonable. The trade agreement would complement Mexico’s surplus labor with manufacturing technology and capital, causing Mexico to increase its productivity by further industrializing, thereby becoming more competitive in the global economy. Productivity and competitiveness would lead to a higher skilled labor force, causing wages to increase. Higher wages would give birth to a middle-class, expand education and labor related skills, fuel other economic activities, and ultimately slow migration to the United States.

What was not to like about the promised results?

Former president Bill Clinton assured the world that NAFTA was going to promote “more equality and better preservation of the environment and a greater possibility of world peace.” Clinton’s Mexican counterpart, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, said that beyond creating jobs it was “an environment improvement agreement…a wage-increasing agreement.”

However, when I returned to Mexico for my graduate studies, my eyes were opened to a much different reality: NAFTA was not fostering meaningful and inclusive economic development or growth—i.e., reducing unemployment, under employment and poverty—it was doing just the opposite. The truth of the matter was all around me: Rising crime, rampant poverty, and growing inequality were just some of my immediate observations. And time, loss, and further observation has confirmed these doubts.
Official statistics show that from 2006 to 2010, more than 12 million Mexicans joined the ranks of the impoverished, causing the poverty level to reach 51.3 percent of the population. And what of the job creation mentioned by Presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Bill Clinton?

According to recent data, dozens of U.S. companies have moved into Mexico. Thanks, in part, to a report released by the McKinsey management consulting firm, claiming that “for a company motivated primarily by cost, Mexico holds the most attractive position among the Latin American countries we studied…[starting] with low labor costs.”

In response, companies like Walmart (now Mexico’s largest private employer), Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Citigroup, Fruit of the Loom, and Blockbuster all have Mexican operations. A development that has caused NAFTA advocates and capitalist enthusiasts to champion other trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with an aim of making more developing nations subservient to U.S. led neoliberal ideologies and “free trade” economics. And this, despite startling data that shows how NAFTA policies have only benefited a few to the detriment of the many.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing workers in Mexico made an average hourly wage of only $4.53 in 2011, compared to $26.87 for their U.S. counterparts. Between 1997 and 2011, the Mexican-U.S. manufacturing wage gap close by only 4 percent. By comparison, manufacturing workers in Brazil earn double their Mexican counterparts while Argentinians earn triple.

NAFTA promised a flourishing North American economy that would benefit all. However, after two decades, the promised benefits are nowhere to be seen. Instead we’ve seen good jobs vanish, income inequality worsen, public services weaken, and our food insecurity and health concerns increase.

The influx of American corporations into Mexico, in search of cheap labor, has meant the displacement of millions of farmers and increased migration to the United States. Furthermore it has made Mexico more dependent on the U.S. in critical areas such as food, security, finance, and overall Democratic development.

According to a recent U.N. report, Mexico has now surpassed U.S. in terms of obese and overweight residents—32.8 percent of Mexicans, compared to 31.8 person of Americans. And the report cited the obvious as a principle cause: more processed in calorie-rich food, coming from a higher concentration of commercially available snack food.

NAFTA supporters often point to Mexico’s growing middle class as evidence of the trade agreement’s success. In the recent book, Mexico: A Middle Class Society, NAFTA negotiator Luis De La Calle and his co-author Luis Rubio, argue that the trade agreement “has dramatically reduced the costs of goods for Mexican families at the same time the quality and variety of goods and services in the country grew.” Apparently this is what “middle class” equates to: more purchases being made at discount prices. And this, while the evidence surrounding the vast majority of the Mexican populace tells an altogether different story.

Mexico, during Felipe Calderon’s presidency, yielded the slowest growth since 1954. A paltry average of 1.58 percent from 2007 to 2011, and, between a similar time period, GDP per capita decreased by 3.71 percent. Performance that places Mexico amongst the worst performers in Latin America. Add to these numbers the fact that twenty-eight million Mexicans face “food poverty,” and more than 50,000 died of malnutrition during Calderon’s presidency, and what you have is a dire situation that makes Mexico’s U.S. instigated drug war look like a footnote to an otherwise dysfunctional nation.

NAFTA has also permitted the “Walmartization” of Mexico. The trade agreement was signed there were only 14 Wal-Mart retail stores in all of Mexico. Today there are more than 1,724 retail and wholesale stores under the Wal-Mart brand. Is this something to be celebrated? The fact that a country like Mexico is now importing traditional food staples, such as tortilla chips and salsa, from California and Texas, has only served to fatten corporate pockets at the expense of the millions of displaced, small-scale farmers and producers. A disgrace that NAFTA advocates don’t speak of.

And what of the high-tech jobs promised to Mexicans?

Companies like Plantronics, Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Dell Computers do in fact have operations in Mexico. But together they employee less than 7000 people throughout the entire country. The reality is that most of the employment born from NAFTA is not much better than the sweatshop operations in China.

To say the least, the socio-economic and political benefits are elusive. Billionaire businessmen like Carlos Slim and Michael S. Dell have certainly benefited. But the majority of Mexicans have only seen stagnated wages, skyrocketing inequality, and increased dependency on the U.S. The “growing middle-class” in Mexico is not “turning Mexico into a more democratic, dynamic and prosperous American Ally,” as it was irresponsibly reported in The Washington Post. But unfortunately this is the lie most accepted and therefore the sad reality we live with as truth.


Mario Gómez was born in 1975 and studied finance and economics at NYU, UNAM, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and ITAM, Instituto Techológico Autónomo de México; his principle residence is in Mexico City, but also resides in NYC and Bogotá. Professionally his expertise resides in finance—brokerage, asset management, estate planning, and venture capital—from NYC, Mexico City, to Medellín. A career path and culmination of experiences that indoctrinated him into the obdurate underworlds of the Western Hemisphere, propelling him to write his first novel, The Consigliere 2011. Now dedicated to activism, he devotes himself to volunteer work, philanthropy, education, and social change—mostly throughout Latin America. He enjoys scuba, sand castles, and triathlons. His highest aspiration—laughter.

Twitter: @geckogomez
FaceBook: Mario "Gecko" Gómez 
GoodReads: Mario Gomez

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Reviews for TAN and THE GOLDEN GRAVE

5.0 out of 5 starsBest in a long time, February 14, 2013
This review is from: Tan – A Story of Exile, Betrayal and Revenge (Kindle Edition)
My Review: It has been awhile since I read a book I had trouble putting down at bedtime. This book is one of those. From the beginning I was drawn into the lives and world of the people of the early days of the IRA. From Liam getting run out of town to the final scene I was hooked. You always want all of the good, fight for the right, characters to end up happily ever after however since this is historical fiction you know they can not. You suffer the sadness and horror they go through while fighting for their independence from the brutal rule of the British. It is one of the best historical novels I have read in a long time and I was not ready for it to end.
REVIEW FROM AMAZON5.0 out of 5 stars Grabs you and doesn’t let go until the final page!, October 12, 2012
This review is from: Tan – A story of exile, betrayal and revenge (Kindle Edition)
I’ve just finished reading David Lawlor’s TAN and frankly I’m all done in! On page one I was transported to Balbriggan, Ireland in 1914 and thence to the Continent for the first World War and back again to Ireland for a horrifying story based on factual events.
Lawlor is a masterful storyteller and I was scarcely able to put his book down for meals or sleeping. Each character in this tale became real for me. I endured their fears and felt the bile of anger and frustration rising in the back of my throat. I smelled the cordite hanging in the air after a pitched battle, and fell exhausted back into my chair.
The awful history of the Tans meting out their twisted sense of “justice” in occupied Ireland is a story well known to all. In TAN, David Lawlor has made it personal and real. It isn’t without its moments of levity though; there were smiles and laughter enough.
I did need to look up, and clarify a few Irish slang terms early on but it didn’t detract from the story at all. I’m not even certain looking them up was necessary for the enjoyment of the story. That’s just my way. The pace of the tale is tight and well written with little “cliff hangers” tossed in here and there that made me more and more anxious as the story progressed. The immensely satisfying ending left me with an enormous smile on my face despite the fact that I am sorry to be saying farewell to a group of characters I quickly came to love.
This book is a definite 5 star read that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who enjoys history, action, and mystery/suspense. Get it. Read it. You’ll love it!
5.0 out of 5 starsGripping historical fiction, February 7, 2013
This review is from: Tan – A story of exile, betrayal and revenge (Kindle Edition)
TAN is a gripping novel that begins before World War I and continues into the Irish War of Independence. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Liam is exiled to England and endures five years of trench warfare in France before making his way back to his homeland as a member of the infamous Black and Tan forces, a group that served as a brutal strong arm force for the English crown. Stationed in his hometown of Balbriggan, Liam is forced to confront his own divided loyalties, as well as those of his own family, and face the brute who framed him.
Lawlor is a fantastic storyteller. He created characters I cared about, crafting even minor players in ways that made them memorable and real. I was pleased to find that the women in the story were written with substance and compassion. Lawlor builds the action in scene after scene in a way that makes the book hard to put down. Fortunately the frequent battle scenes that create an abundance of tension and anxiety are balanced with moments of humor.
The author’s sympathies are clearly with the Irish, but the story fairly points out that both sides in a war are capable of brutality, both sides have legitimate points of view. Because Liam’s own brother sides with the British, readers face the complicated reality of families torn apart by war. No one gets off easily in this one.
Many characters speak in Irish vernacular, which took me a while to settle into, but which ensured I was immersed in Ireland. The dialect didn’t get in the way of enjoying the story, since it could all be understood in context.
TAN made me want to know more about the Irish War of Independence. Lawlor has me eager to read his next book.

5.0 out of 5 stars
THE GOLDEN GRAVEA post WW1 impressive historical novel and the sequel to `Tan’, The Golden Grave picks up with Liam Mannion in search of gold. A train cargo packed with enough bullion bars to persuade Liam and his war buddy to return to the horrific battlefields of France once again.Gold wasn’t the only lure; there is a gold seeking, conniving bitch named Sabine, a former lover of Liam, who has recruited a group of servicemen to carry out her dirty work.Lawlor takes his readers back in time by reliving the horrors during battles. Buried bodies, active explosives, and weapons all come alive in their search for gold. The stench and sight of war being thrown in their faces make the men sick and twisted with greed. Everyone has a plan, there are secrets and lies, and this is what kept me engaged from page one.
What differentiates a good book from a great book is unpredictability. The Golden Grave is packed with surprises throughout the story, none of which takes away from the historical details.
Who ends up with the gold, if anyone? Was it worth the return to hell?
I recommend The Golden Grave to readers who enjoy a great historical novel; it’s an entertaining way to learn history.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Splendid 20 April 2013
By diebus
“Golden Grave” by David Lawlor is a splendid thriller in a very interesting historical setting.
A prologue introduced the title theme with a short and gripping description of a train journey in Flanders in 1917. Loaded with a special “24 carat” cargo the train comes under fire and comes to an unscheduled stop.
Jumping forward in time to 1920 the author `returns’ to Liam, hero of his previous book, “Tan”, a man on the run from the law. Wanted by the police in Ireland he fled to Liverpool, where he meets up with Ernie, a soldier friend of his who has plans to go to France to locate the gold lost somewhere on the battlefields in France, asked for help in this matter by the dubious Sabine Durer.
The relationship between Sabine and Liam is complex as they once had an affair that he ended but Sabine needs the soldiers to find her locate the treasure.
This part of the novel is my favourite part, as Lawlor describes in great detail and with a lot of knowledge the aftermath of the war: the recovery of corpses, made difficult by the likely presence of unexploded mines and explosives. It is an interesting aspect of war that is lesser known and handled in literature.
It is made all the more real and emotional by the fact that the soldiers now digging once were on these battle fields and every corpse they find could be one of their old mates. As they are literally and metaphorically digging the relationships, both between the group and with other people in the area become more tense and filled with distrust. If the gold is discovered, who will have their share in it?
Lawlor is a formidable historian who knows and writes well about the weaponry and the way we would have to imagine the battle fields so soon after the war but he also has created a set of intriguing characters that can drive the plot forward easily and at the same time keep the suspense. I found myself quite drawn into the unfolding events and turns, some obvious and others more unexpected.
Having read and enjoyed “Tan”, the first instalment of this series, I found this book a great sequel in that it built cleverly on Liam’s past but took us into an unexpected direction. Lawlor’s command of English is immaculate, resulting in great and realistic dialogue and a descriptive style that brings the scene to the eye like a movie script, in fact, I could easily see this book being made into a very successful film.
This book is great entertainment as a thriller as well as a piece of history and if you like a good treasure hunt or enjoy novels set in the past then this is a must read. It is hugely enjoyable.
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking yarn, hits all the right notes: characters, action, intrigue, setting, April 29, 2013
This review is from: The Golden Grave (A Liam Mannion Story) (Kindle Edition)
Review is based on a copy of the novel provided by the author for that purpose.
What would it take to convince a group of British ex-servicemen to return to the killing fields of Flanders after the Great War? The very location where, just two years earlier, they had endured a hellish, kill-or-be-killed existence in the trenches, knee-deep in stinking mud, senses assaulted by the pounding of artillery, and surrounded by the dead — many whose bodies were violently torn apart by shells and bullets, taking part in futile mass charges into spitting machine guns, choking on mustard gas.
What would it take? Why, gold of course. Enough of the precious metal to set a man up for a lifetime of luxury, enough to make him forget the horrors he experienced — and continues to live through in heart-stopping nightmares — in the very same clay he’ll have to dig through to recover that gold.
In “The Golden Grave,” David Lawlor (@LawlorDavid) has once again written a cracking yarn set during the post-war period, filled with exciting action, intrigue and well-drawn characters led by Liam Mannion, the protagonist of the author’s debut novel, “Tan” (see my review).
Liam, who is on the run from the British after his actions as a member of the Irish Republican Army, and his mates embark on the adventure at the behest of Sabine, a stunning temptress who ran a bar behind the lines where British soldiers would go to enjoy a brief respite from the mayhem of the front. Many a man had his eye on Sabine, and she was more than happy to encourage their interest while selling them beer and cigarettes.
Sabine’s a survivor who just happens to know about a shipment of gold that went missing in the aftermath of the British offensive on Messines Ridge, which has been called “the greatest mining attack” in history. Nineteen large mines were detonated within seconds of each other along a narrow front, temporarily collapsing German resistance as well as the bunker hiding the gold.
There are several sub-plots in play and Mr. Lawlor does an exceptional job keeping the reader in suspense, never giving too much away while at the same time letting us know things are not what they seem. Although the pace of the story moves smoothly, the truth is revealed slowly, to great effect, and there are more than a few surprises in store right up to the end.
The author sets a wonderful scene, especially in the ruined battlefield. Two years after the war life is returning to normal, but the scars are never far from view: flowers bloom around shell holes and livestock graze in fields lined by trenches choking with skeletal bodies and discarded war equipment. The war also left indelible marks on the men who fought it, from the aforementioned nightmares to other, more serious behaviors. As he did in “Tan,” Mr. Lawlor explores the emotional cost of the Great War, which for many men was both the greatest and most exciting undertaking of their lives and the most horrible.
“The Golden Grave” is a deeply satisfying story that hits all the right marks: action, adventure, plot twists and surprises, great setting, a bit of romance and memorable characters. I loved it and recommend it wholeheartedly. I became a fan of Mr. Lawlor after reading “Tan,” and hope he keeps writing stories like that and “The Golden Grave.” For more from him, check out his blog,

Monday, July 22, 2013


Peelers have a knack for hitting you where it hurts; broken nose, bruised ribs, a few loosened more than a rapist deserved, Sergeant Coveney and District Inspector Webber had said. Proper order, too - except the lad was no rapist, and Webber knew it.’

It’s 1914 and Liam Mannion is forced into exile for a crime he didn’t commit. He flees Balbriggan, the only home he has ever known and travels to England, where he enlists and endures the torment of trench warfare in France. Five years later he’s back in England, a changed man, living in the shadow of his battlefield memories. Liam finds work in a Manchester cotton mill but prejudice and illness soon see him destitute. Starving and desperate, he enlists in a new military force heading to Ireland - the Black and Tans - and is posted to the very town he fled as a youth.

While he has been away Liam’s childhood friends have joined the republican cause, while his brother has allied himself to the Crown forces. Liam must wrestle with his own conflicted feelings about duty to the ruthless Tans and loyalty to his friends. The potent combination of ambition, patriotism and betrayal collide, forcing him to act as he comes face to face with the man who spread lies about him all those years before.

Link to reviews for Tan )

THE GOLDEN GRAVE1920 – Former British soldier turned republican fighter Liam Mannion is on the run with a price on his head. He looks up with old comrade Ernie Wood, who is being lured back to the battlefields on the Western Front in search of lost gold.
The source of the story is Liam’s former lover, Sabine Durer, who ran a soldier's bar close to the frontline. Blinded by thoughts of her and buried treasure, Ernie and Liam enlist three other ex-soldiers to find it.
. What starts out as a simple excavation soon becomes much more. Wartime memories and old rivalries are resurrected. The men discover that Sabine has not told them the whole story and that their lives are in danger, but who can you rely on when greed and lust cloud your judgment beneath Flanders' fields?

Link to reviews for The Golden Grave )


Twitter: @LawlorDavid



Saturday, July 20, 2013

The sin that dare not speak its name by David Lawlor

'The sin that dare not speak its name’… that’s how homosexuality was once famously described. It’s a phrase that could just as easily lend itself to a dark secret held by many Irish families today - that of having a relative who served in the Black and Tans.

It may be over 90 years since the Irish War of Independence but the potency of those three words ‘Black and Tan’ was brought home only last year when trainer manufacturer Nike had the temerity to issue some new stock under that very name. The outcry was swift and vocal. ‘An outrage’, trumpeted some quarters. ‘How could the company dare to sully the memory of the victims by being so crass as to name a sneaker after such brutal thugs?’ asked others. The offending sneakers were quickly withdrawn and an apology issued.

It is a strange quirk of Irish history that after so much has changed in this country that we still feel a frisson of disgust at the mere mention of those three words. The Tans were sent to Ireland as Temporary Constables to crush burgeoning revolution and when they couldn’t do that the Auxiliaries (former officers and far worse by most accounts) were brought in to finish the job.

But it is the Tans whose name resonates; they are still reviled for their brutish behaviour, from rampaging drunkenness to cold-blooded murder, their name is infamous. And yet a sizeable portion of them were of our own…Irishmen, who for economic reasons or otherwise, chose to don the mangled uniform of army khaki and RIC blue in order to terrorise their fellow citizens.

Save for the highly informative work by DS Clarke, Running With Crows: The Life and Death of A Black and Tan, those Irish Tans have been largely ignored, yet their presence still resonates. I have two colleagues whose grandfathers served as Black and Tans, though they were a little sheepish when they told me so; another colleague’s granddad actually shot a Tan in the head. My own grandfather was tortured by them when they used a pliers on his finger nails. Four colleagues touched by the same ghostly historic hangover – and that’s just in one newsroom. How many more families have Tan stories to relate?

I have a keen interest in history and the Tans struck a chord with me. I wondered who they really were, and wanted to write about them. However, to go down that road is, even now, a difficult path to take for their relatives. So, I wrote a novel instead, where the central character is a Black and Tan serving in his old home town of Balbriggan.

Why Balbriggan? Because it was put to the torch by them in 1920, as was Tuam. These outrages are largely lost to history, the one many Irish people have a vague recollection of is Cork, which was also set ablaze by their drunken horde.

My novel, Tan, deals with a young man falsely accused of a crime and who forced to flee his home town and enlist in the British Army just in time for the Great War. Five years later he’s demobbed and soon destitute. Desperate for money he joins up in the new force of Temporary Constables being set up for a quick tour of duty across the sea.

The money is good, it will put him back on his feet and he can start afresh once he is again released from the Army’s clutches. It was a choice offered to all those who signed up and many of them had weighed the same financial dilemma as my character, Liam. It might explain why many put pen to paper but it doesn’t answer the reason for their brutality.

Five years in trenches might, though, suffering daily bombardment in appalling conditions as their friends died all around them on futile assaults, being slaughtered in their thousands for the same piece of shell-torn earth their comrades had already given their lives for. That kind of thing must do something to the soul…call it shell shock or post-traumatic stress; it must manifest itself somehow – in battle it might be called uncommon valour, in the streets of Dublin or Balbriggan or Cork it might be called something else.

I’m no historian, but I do like a good story, and whether you like it or not the Tans give one. Booker winner Sebastian Barry recognised that and wrote On Canaan’s Side to explore the same issue. My own efforts may not reach the lofty heights of Mr Barry, but in my own way I’m trying to answer that question – the one brushed beneath the carpet by many of our families….why did they do it and why must their ancestors still bear the shame? 

We write our own histories mostly, but sometimes events are left to moulder in the dark and dank corners of our hidden past…a past too painful to explore. It’s time we shone a light on those corners and discovered what lies festering there.

David Lawlor is Associate Editor with the Evening Herald newspaper in Ireland and has been writing features, reviews and working as a production journalist in national newspapers for 22 years.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Loukia Borrel Author of Raping Aphrodite an interview by M.C.V. Egan

·         Raping Aphrodite is a powerful title how did you choose it? There were other titles I considered. One of them was “Killing Cyprus,” but I decided not to go with that, for a couple of reasons. One is that not everyone knows where Cyprus is and I thought it wouldn’t appeal to readers to have Cyprus in the title, if they have to spend a lot of time figuring out where it is. I knew I could explain that inside the book and with a map, which the paperback version has. The other reason I didn’t go with that title is because even though Cyprus was invaded and divided, and has been occupied by one country or another for most of its existence, the island has survived. It wasn’t “killed” by strife. I finally decided on “Raping Aphrodite” as the title because it is a meaningful  message. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the island was cut in two and was literally and figuratively raped. Women were raped, people were forced out of their homes and lived as refugees, there were mass killings and complete devastation across the island, not only for Greek-Cypriots, but for Turkish-Cypriots as well, not to mention their family members around the world.  Today, there are still about 2,000 Turkish and Greek Cypriots missing from that summer. As for Aphrodite, according to Greek mythology, she rose from the sea foam off the coast of Cyprus. Hence, the title. 

What if everything you know - or think you know- about your life is wrong? Tash Colgate is about to find out how that feels in Raping Aphrodite, a new work of fiction by first-time author Loukia Borrell.

Tash has the life she always wanted: a solid marriage to a man she loves and a successful art career. But when she agrees to display items in her gallery from the Mediterranean Island of Cyprus, her decision begins to unravel long-held secrets that were never expected to see the light of day. Set, in part, against the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, Raping Aphrodite is a story of unearthing truths and a haunted past.


·         Is your family from Cyprus? If not how did you choose the 1974 Turkish invasion? My parents sailed to the United States from Cyprus in 1952, well before the invasion. Many of my relatives were still in Cyprus and when the invasion occurred, all of them became refugees. There were about two dozen people from my mother’s village who went missing and were never located, my maternal grandparents among them. I was only 11 years old at the time, but that event has followed me through time and I felt responsible to tell their story.

·         As a journalist did you cover art and foreign Politics? I did a variety of stories, but not art or foreign politics. I covered obituaries, real estate, fashion, police, education, and other general assignment stories over a 20-year period for different newspapers in Virginia and Florida.

·         How do you balance the transition from fact to fiction? When you are a journalist, you are dealing with facts, but I also have a lively imagination (at least, Mr. Borrell tells me I do) so when I decided to write a book a few years ago, I tapped into both areas. I used my  personal experiences, facts from the invasion and my imagination to create the story lines for “Raping Aphrodite.” The book is based on true events, but it has a balance of fiction, too.

·         Is there more fact than fiction in your novel? I would say fiction. Both story lines contain fiction, but one is completely fiction while the other, about the invasion, mixes in the truth, too.

·         Art and conflict are a great combination as so much art has been removed from countries when invaded and it is such an intrinsic part of all cultural heritages.  Your choice of an  art gallery as a backdrop is very clever, did much research go into that or was art something you were familiar with before you wrote Raping Aphrodite? It is well-documented that churches and monasteries in North Cyprus were destroyed and stripped of their religious contents. One report I read said more than 15,000 icons are missing, as well as other artifacts like chalices, frescoes and Bibles. Here and there, since 1974, pieces have shown up and I have read about them, in particular, a late 1990s case in Munich that involved several hundred pieces. Coincidentally, after I finished “Raping Aphrodite” but before it was published, I read a story about English singer Boy George, who returned a Cypriot icon of Christ that had been looted from a church during the invasion. He bought it in the 1980s, I believe, and had no idea it was stolen. When I was writing the book, I remembered my parents talking about the church in my mother’s village. My great-grandfather was the priest there and had a major role in building that church. It was completely stripped and one relative told me it was being used as a stable for animals or to kick around soccer balls. Based on all of that, incorporating missing religious artifacts seemed natural to me, because I knew about that church and others like it for many years.     

·         Did your research include travel? I have always wanted to go to Turkey to visit the Topkapi museum. I did not travel for this book. I remembered stories my parents passed on to me, did some research with books and on the Internet.

·         Do you speak Greek or Turkish? I am fluent in Greek and have been bilingual since childhood. I am the only person in my immediate family who is 100 percent Greek-Cypriot. I am proud of that and grateful that, through this book, I have left something of my heritage for my children to have and to inform the public about Cypriot history.


Monday, July 15, 2013

~ Monica Lewinski ~ History Judges Personal Acts~ By Loukia Borrell

 From time to time, I think about Monica Lewinsky. I remember her rise to notoriety went something like this: Young, pretty girl goes to Washington to work in government, gets White House internship, gets even closer to the president, gives him oral sex, (probably did more, but no intercourse if we believe what we've been told), gets transferred because people around Clinton think she is spending too much time with him, Monica tells someone, is recorded and her life changes forever. She is spurned by the world she was trying to embrace and cast aside by the man she trusted and, dare I say, loved.
 By the time this scandal broke, it was just another story for me. I knew what had happened. I knew how she felt because I had been there myself, 10 years earlier. I was a young, attractive girl acting inappropriately with various men who were in positions of authority. At 25, there was very little consideration in me for things like consequences. I just didn’t care. All I thought about was making enough money to pay rent, partying, staying out late, sleeping in late, not being alone and having a good time.  People do stuff like that in their 20s.  I was young, free of the responsibilities of children and debt and determined to get into everything life showed me. But, by the time the Clinton-Lewinsky mega-bomb exploded, I was changing and beginning to walk the path I am on today: Being a wife and mother.  I was 35. My party days were over. Hearing Monica and Bill got busy was really a non-story for me. It wasn’t complicated: Pretty girl, powerful man. She gets hurt. He distances himself. Got it.
 In the 15 years since the scandal, I don’t think Monica got a fair deal. She isn’t any different than any other young woman who was testing the waters in her twenties. She’s probably a nice, competent person who had dreams, but got sidetracked by a major, and unfortunately public, mistake. It happened, too, just as the Internet was gaining ground so the media was all over Monica. She couldn’t quietly rebuild her life and move on like other White House girlfriends did. Girls in the White House was not a new thing. It would have taken Herculean efforts to stave off the President of the United States. Women in their 20s just don’t possess that type of muscle.
I am thinking of Monica now because she is about to turn 40. That can be a hard birthday. It can begin the descent to a lot of thinking that makes you feel bad about yourself: Left behind, left out, no kids, no husband, harder to keep off the weight, irregular periods signaling it might be harder to have children, people you know have lives you should have, pressure, pressure, pressure. What I’ve read lately is that she needs money and is planning a tell-all. I wish I could tell her to walk away from that project, but if she feels it is the only thing she has left, she is going to write her book.
All of us could have been Monica. And if we are honest, if we drop our judgmental natures, we know how she could be feeling. She might play out those years in her mind: Maybe Bill would leave Hillary for her and they would become legends. Hillary might have thought about leaving Bill, but by the time Monica came along, I am quite sure Hillary knew about Bill’s wayward ways. She was probably really, truly, deeply disappointed in him but ultimately decided she could forgive him: They have a long history, a daughter, and together they are more powerful than they are apart. Good enough for Hillary and Bill.
And Monica? I bet her parents were very proud to say, “Our daughter is a White House intern. She works for President Clinton.” By age 25, when the story broke, she was a punch line, hiding out in her mother’s apartment. Years rolled by. She tried a series of jobs and projects, went to school and in the process, lost her youth and dreams. That is a tough thing for a woman to experience. It makes you feel lonely when your best years are behind you and the future doesn’t seem much better. Things just seem a lot harder for her than they were for the other people involved, especially the Clintons.
She didn’t do the right thing, but she also hasn’t been able to escape that mistake, a mistake many, many other people – men and women – have made. No matter what she accomplishes in her life, she will always be “that White House intern.” Even if she lives another 40 years, her obituary will refer to her relationship with Clinton, probably in the first line, too.  I just wish that weren’t the case.
 Loukia Borrell is the author of Raping Aphrodite. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children and is working on her second novel.       

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cyprus... a personal perspective by Loukia Borrell

During a recent social studies class, my 13-year-old son, Val, was playing a round of Jeopardy, a classroom version of the popular TV show that is used to help students prepare for tests.  An upcoming map quiz included a question that brought a smile to Val’s face. His teacher, Amy Lindgren, pointed to a small island on a map.

“Does anyone know what island this is?” Mrs. Lindgren asked.

Val smiled, and his hand shot up. By now, Mrs. Lindgren was smiling, too. The answer was Cyprus, that small island with the distinctive shape nestled in the Mediterranean, west of Syria.  As Val recalled his day in school, I asked him why he smiled when his teacher called on him. “I don’t know. I just did.”

It might take Val years to understand why he wanted to be the student to identify Cyprus, but his reason is clear to me:  He is the grandson of Greek-Cypriot immigrants who came to the United States from Cyprus in 1952, leaving behind the agrarian village life for opportunities and experiences in America.

When my parents were growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, there was no electricity, plumbing, phones or washing machines in their Cypriot villages. Women tended to children, made clothes and took care of the house; men looked over the “bervolia,” (fields) where crops were grown and harvested, and spent free time playing “tavli” (backgammon) at the local “kafeneo” (coffee house). Virtually everything they ate was grown or made by them – from the halloumi cheese to the bread, grains, olives, fruits and vegetables. There were no door locks. If anyone needed water, they would go to the “vrisi” in town, collect what they needed and catch up on village news before heading back home. At that time, Cyprus was a nation of Greeks, Turks and some Armenians, a mixed populace that co-existed peacefully.

Although Val’s ties to Cyprus are diluted, he still is half-Cypriot and proud of being able to identify with that deep, rich history. At the same time, Val represents how roots with a country or geographical area are loosened over time. He is aware of the difference in how Greek I am, versus how Greek he is. It’s a running  joke in our family that if anyone needs a blood transfusion, they should come to me because I am from “The Source,” a country that dates back 11,000 years, while everyone else in our immediate family - Val, his sisters and especially my husband – a real “American xenos” (outsider) - are watered-down versions of the past.

From me, and as far back as my parents can recall – several generations – the story is this: The blood in our veins is Greek-Cypriot. All of my relatives from my father and mother came from northern Cyprus, an area that today is in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a self-declared state that began with the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. By coming to the United States, my parents began to tug at their family tree and put out distant branches. They had children who were born U.S. citizens, and although I look Greek, speak the language and am familiar with customs and traditions, I am an Americanized version of who I would have been had my parents stayed in Cyprus. I continued to untie, rather than unite my Greek-Cypriot heritage, by marrying outside of my nationality.  I drew the line, ending the “all Cypriot” heritage and made myself the last full-blooded Cypriot. No longer is everyone in my family totally Greek.

Still, I do what I can to instill Cypriot pride in our children. All three were baptized in the Greek Orthodox church, and I have learned to cook dishes my mother used to make. I tell them stories about their grandparents and their determination and courage to leave home and rebuild their lives in a new world, something countless nationalities have done.

 A couple of years ago, we took our three children to Washington, D.C., to see “Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilizations,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.  It was an antiquities collection that showcased Cyprus’ deep, rich history dating to 11,000 years B.C., when the first humans – likely hunters - were known to have been in Cyprus. I knew that I was a descendant of these early people, of any of the settlers who established lives on Cyprus.

Throughout Cyprus’ long history, there have been many cultures attracted to the island for its location near three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa – and its natural beauty and resources. With that attraction comes  an inevitable price: Cyprus has always been a land to conquer and possess. Persians, Egyptians, Arabs, the British, Venetians, Romans, and Ottomans have all dominated Cyprus through the centuries. The last battle over Cyprus happened in 1974, when Turkey invaded the island’s northern third after a failed attempt by Greek-Cypriots to unite Cyprus with Greece. The move was catastrophic  for both populaces and exhibited the usual atrocities found during wars: rapes, murders, looting of artifacts, displacement, and other excruciating losses. To this day, Greek-Cypriots living in other areas of Cyprus and around the world are unable to freely return to their previous homes and resume their lives. Worse, about 2,000 Greek and Turkish-Cypriots are still missing from that summer, my maternal grandparents among them.

With the 1974 invasion and the natural changes that come with the simple, constant passage of time, Cyprus bears very little resemblance to the island my parents knew. It is deep, permanent change caught up in unstoppable momentum. When my parents talk about the 1974 invasion, and even when they recall their lives on the isle, they don’t have hatred for the Turks. This is because they grew up in Cyprus when the general population of Greeks and Turks were friends. At the time, there were several villages near my parents’ homes that were predominantly occupied by Turkish families. Everyone knew each other, worked side-by-side to harvest crops and relied on each other as good neighbors do.  

My parents find more fault with Greek-Cypriots who wanted to end British rule in Cyprus. Under the British crown, Cyprus was protected but those salad days turned sour as some Cypriots fought to end colonial rule on the island. They wanted their independence, a risk for a nation so small and unable to properly defend itself. Ultimately, the people who paid the price for this independence are not the same people who wanted the British gone.

As tensions escalated between Turks and Greeks in the 1960s, Turkey took steps to stop plans to unify the island with Greece. While my parents have criticized Turkey’s violence and belligerence, they are realistic enough to realize it was an inevitable response.  Cyprus used to be part of the Ottoman Empire, and Turkish-Cypriots in Cyprus have roots as deep as Greek-Cypriots. A union with Greece with unacceptable.

Whatever has happened in Cyprus since Turkey took the northern third, it does not matter to those with deep ties to the island. Oceans can’t keep the love away. Time can’t kill it. Invasions won’t change their affinity. Cyprus is in their blood. Only death can sever one’s ties to a beloved nation. My father, who is 92, has insisted I take him back to Cyprus for burial, even though he has been in the United States more than 60 years. That is true love of country.

Today, Cyprus is a mixture of lavish tourist bubbles co-existing within the real world of how locals live their lives – working and taking care of their families, coping with economic and financial issues. The recent bailout crisis was just one more chapter in Cyprus’ long, complex history. It was ironic to see demonstrators holding up signs that said “Hands Off Cyprus,” because the island, for most of its history, has been handed from one country to another, either willingly or by force.  In the face of this, the people of Cyprus, both Turkish and Greek, have always done one thing. Something they have done well since the land was first settled: They have endured. They survive loss, death, catastrophe and challenges, not only as individuals but also as a nation. There is great pride in the people of Cyprus, something they can use to help each other in the years ahead.

We mustn’t look at Cyprus and its people as victims. Cyprus and Cypriots – both Greek and Turkish – are resilient people. They can never be broken and their nation has survived troubled times and repeatedly risen from the trauma. Cyprus will always be there, but the country’s best chance for moving forward is to end the division – something younger and older generations seem to want – and allow the nation’s mixed populace to blend together in the best interest of Cyprus. Through education and cooperation, there will be a better chance to see an end to hostilities for the benefit of the people.

I recently experienced a small taste – literally - of how things can go between Greeks and Turks. During a recent lunch with a friend, I found myself in a restaurant I had never been to before. The name was Pasha and I immediately liked it. I felt comfortable with the Mediterranean décor and menu items. I ordered a flavorful crab cake sandwich on artisan bread with a smooth, appetizing lentil soup.

 As I dug in, I asked my friend a question, “What kind of restaurant is this?”

She looked at me and said, “It’s Turkish. I hope that’s OK with you.”

I smiled. It was.


Loukia Borrell is a native of Toledo, Ohio, and was raised in Virginia Beach. She is a former journalist and the author of “Raping Aphrodite,” a novel set against the 1974 invasion and division of Cyprus.  Loukia is married to media analyst Gordon Borrell. They have three children and live in Virginia.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ZINNMAN by Robert Craven

In this assured and compelling sequel to 'Get LENIN', it is 1941, and the Allied intelligence team of Henry Chainbridge, Peter De Witte and Eva Molenaar are tasked by Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden personally with destroying a terrifying new weapon of mass destruction being developed jointly by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, using Chinese prisoners of war as guinea-pigs before giving it its first full test on the Russian Front.

As ever, Eva is the sultry Polish-born spy putting her body on the line at the heart of the enemy, Chainbridge is the reserved master strategist and De Witte is the suave, blind intelligence gatherer in love with Eva Molenaar, but does she still love him back or has she fallen for a German agent?