"I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.
"The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.
"But yes, the sneering is ridiculous! Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness. It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared! The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage."
In Angsten’s (Night of the Furies, 2008, etc.) latest thriller, an American living in Italy searches for his brother and the sacred, much-desired lotus before a team of assassins can find them.
Jack Duran’s relatively quiet life as a tour guide in Rome takes a drastic turn when someone tries to kill him. A few someones, actually, who want to know about the lotus flower Jack’s paleoethnobotanist brother, Dan, sent him. Jack doesn’t know why several factions, including the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service, are interested in the lotus, but they’re sure he knows where Dan is. He doesn’t, but with a group of Iranian assassins on his tail, he decides to hunt for his brother, beginning in Turkmenistan. Jack and his brother’s girlfriend, Dutch archaeologist Phoebe Auerbach (with whom Jack was once infatuated), reconnect to track down Dan and the lotus—if they can stay alive long enough. Angsten certainly knows how to kick-start his story: Jack is on a date with mysterious Maya, unaware he’s being followed by at least two unknown parties. Angsten further establishes suspense right away with one assassin in particular, Vanitar, who blames Jack for his brother’s death and is fueled by vengeance. The book is rife with nail-biting tension, as when Jack must duck into an airport restroom before even getting out of Rome, before his and Phoebe’s search takes them inside a dark crypt. The action rarely stops. Jack (and eventually Phoebe) bounces all over Central Asia while traveling by plane, train, boat, and car. He’s also chased by professional killers, hotel security, and police in a variety of places, from a hospital to the desert. Love connections—between Jack and Phoebe as well as Dan and Phoebe—are teased, but Dan, his fate uncertain, isn’t around to ignite potential melodrama. On occasion, Angsten threatens to saturate the plot with detail—the purpose of the lotus, for example, is fairly simple and explained a bit too often—but these discussions among Jack and others are never tedious, since it’s only a matter of time before they’re back to evading murderous baddies.
Angsten hits all the genre highlights—action, suspense, mystery—in this worthwhile thriller.