Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review of Jingo by Terry Pratchett

In the days and months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, US media was full of news regarding the threat weapons of mass destruction posed in the hands of Saddam Hussein.  Momentum building, the onslaught of news coverage, White House propaganda, and an internal agenda culminated in the US government voting to allow its military forces to invade the Middle Eastern country under the premise that those weapons, whose existence were a foregone conclusion, would eventually be used against political allies—if not the US itself—in the wake of 9-11.  As history tells, no nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons were ever found, and yet the invasion had occurred.  Nearly paralleling this storyline to a ‘T’, Terry Pratchett’s 1997 Jingo takes a right hand turn at the confrontation, making it extremely prescient—to a point, that is. That point is what makes the novel worthwhile—oh, that and the humor (wink).

Another in the City Watch sub-series, Jingo is the twenty-third Discworld novel.  Featuring Commander Vimes, Corporal Carrot, Detritus, Nobby, Lietenant Colon, Colonel Angua, Lord Vetinari, Leonard of Quirm, Lord Rust, and several other familiar names, the story tells of a dispute between the Ankh-Morporkians and their distant Arab-esque neighbors, the Klatchians.  The dispute erupting when an island appears in the sea between the two nations, each side claims the rock as its own—appropriate insults appearing regarding who is and isn’t de facto owner.  With an important visit by a Klatchian emissary due, none other than Prince Khufurah, Vimes has his squad on high alert to make sure nothing untoward happens during the visit, inlcuding the scheduled parade.  But try as hard as he likes, trouble does come, and in its wake, war and rumors of war.  But as to the actual showdown between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch itself, well, the reader will have to discover that for themselves to see how it parallels reality.

Jingo one of the more focused Discworld novels, Pratchett has his target and he sets direct course from the get-go.  No bones made about the ridiculousness and relevancy of war and its exigencies, the entire narrative of the novel is an evolving commentary on the human practice that moves along realist—at least as much as that is possible in Discworld—tracks.  The political setup, as mentioned, echoing what would come in just five years time in our reality, the novel feels highly prophetic given the large number of exact parallels which actually transpired.  The propaganda, the background interest, the top of the political pyramid ignoring its body and base, not to mention the load of prejudice and stereotyping that goes hand in hand with much Western thought regarding Arabs and their culture, all are fit snugly into the storyline.
Never shying away from the challenge, Pratchett addresses the issues inherent to war and prejudice with direct aplomb.  He pokes holes in the logic of the Western mind, while simultaneously poking fun at it, showing indeed how narrow-minded it can be.  The title of the book apt, of particular note is that it is not Jingoism, rather Jingo—a more general term that appears to better summarize the variety of phrases and delusional ideas that hang around the idea of war, that is rather than strictly the political side of things. 

Neither painting the Klatchians/Arabs as good and Ankh-Morporkians/Westerners as bad, or vice versa, Pratchett looks at each through the microscope of universal humanity, humor the magnifying lens.  As can be assumed, Pratchett plays off his trademarks: twisted idioms, puns, and occasional slap-stick.  But added to the mix are riffs on a variety of commonly known cultural biases, outright derogatory terms, and the view that indeed, politicians are just as human and base as the people they govern.  All in all, another outstanding comedic effort from the author.

If there is a fault to the novel it would be the simplicity of the theme; ‘war is bad’ is not the most challenging subject material in literature.  That Pratchett integrates the theme with a storyline that could—and did—eventuate in reality, however, is where Jingo earns its keep.  Certainly the humor will keep the novel from being remembered as a classic anti-war novel, but that does not prevent the text from containing several profound comments and perspectives on war-mongering, arms sales, and the act of going to war.

In the end, Jingo is more brand name Discworld fun with a moral.  The plot focused and steadily evolving, the City Watch is called into military duty as Ankh-Morpork heads to war with Klatch.  As funny as any other Discworld novel, the humor is all there as Vimes, Carrot, Detritus and the crew take center stage to uphold the law and keep the peace.  For Discworld fans it’s a must, while for those who have yet to taste the series, it’s as good a starting place as any.  For everyone, it is one of the top Discworld novels.

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