Lara McCauley, hopeful but, as she notes, "no longer naïve" at 29, follows her war correspondent husband, Mac, to Beirut in 1983, when fault lines of international terrorism (then in its embryonic stages) ran through the city just as surely as the Green Line that separated Lebanon's warring factions. Lara, curious and loving, has little in common with seasoned journalist Mac, who has revealed himself over the years of their relationship as a selfish, possessive and abusive bully. When Mac begins an affair with his Lebanese translator, Lara finds a friend in another outsider: the mysterious Thomas Warkowski, a freelance journalist who's rumored to be a spy, and thought to be gay. With her marriage unraveling, and the city's mounting body count dismissed internationally as "Beirut-bang-bang," Lara beds Thomas with far-reaching and catastrophic consequences. Setting the story against the backdrop of a society cruelly tearing itself apart (and punctuating it with the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport), debut novelist Robertson draws a powerful story out of Lara's first-person narration. The author solidly dramatizes the ironies and ambiguities, moral and otherwise, of Lara's desperate encounters. (Oct.)
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*Starred Review.* Lara McCauley is trapped in a failed marriage, but can't admit it yet. Her husband, Mac, an international news correspondent, is great company in public, but a bully and a womanizer in private. When Mac is assigned to Beirut in January 1983, Lara goes with him, but they barely settle in before Mac starts another affair. Lara tries but can't adjust to life in the middle of a war zone: she is perpetually terrified. Then, on October 23, 241 Americans and 58 French soldiers are massacred in suicide bombings at the U.S. Marine barracks and the quarters of the French Multi-National Force. Events move to a violent close, leaving Lara both betrayer and betrayed. There are no heroes in this wrenching novel; no one behaves well and everyone's motives are suspect. With years of experience in news broadcasting, including a year in Beirut as a stringer for CBS radio, Robertson writes with authenticity about a city and a people destroyed by civil war. The contrast she draws between the grand scale of the Lebanese civil war and the small scale of Lara's battle to win back Mac is quite effective. An exceptional first novel, gripping and real. Enthusiastically recommended for general collections. David Keymer, Modesto, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- Library Journal
Infidelity Amid the Chaos of Beirut By STEPHEN BARBARA Setting her first novel in the artillery-pocked Beirut of 1983, Margaret Lowrie Robertson tells the story of Lara McCauley, an agreeable if nerve-racked woman who has followed her journalist husband, Anthony, into the chaos of war-torn Lebanon. The contrast between husband and wife in "Season of Betrayal" could not be more striking. While "Mac" (as her husband is called) is exhilarated by the daily violence and intrigue of the civil war, quickly landing features for his magazine and bedding beautiful Nadia from Beirut, poor Lara, our narrator, is paralyzed by fear and self-doubt. Ms. Robertson is setting up a parallel here: Just as the U.S. Marines in Beirut are confused and hesitant, headed for disaster, so too does Lara seem on course for tragedy. Her marriage will fall apart, the affair she begins in this foreign city will end badly and the enormity of the bloodshed surrounding her will prove more than she can handle.
Ms. Robertson presents a convincing view of war reporters' lives, an authenticity obviously informed by personal experience. The author is married to CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson and was herself an international correspondent in CNN's London bureau for nearly a decade.
Though she is working in fiction, Ms. Robertson writes with a crisp, clear, tough voice reminiscent of Joan Didion's journalism. Her portrait of Beirut -- at once vivid and meticulous -- displays a reporter's gift for detail. In the no-go zone called the Green Line, she writes, "plants and trees grew in the honeycombed wreckage on either side of the street, gutted by shells and gunfire, startlingly verdant." When Lara and Mac visit the home of a Beirut native, Lara realizes that they're sitting on chairs "over-upholstered in crimson plush ... so obviously new, I suspected they were purchased with this very evening in mind."
For all that, the novel does have its flaws. Chief among these is Ms. Robertson's interruptions of the story with tedious historical passages intended to illuminate the history of the Lebanese civil war. Had she found a way to weave such exposition gracefully into the story, this would have been an even more impressive debut. -- The Wall Street Journal (Weekend Edition, October 21-22)
There's an old literary bromide that says you can't pile enough problems onto your protagonist--the tougher things are, the better. As Margaret Lowrie Robertson makes her transition from CNN international correspondent to novelist in Season of Betrayal, we can be sure of one thing: She paid attention to that piece of advice.
Consider the plight of Robertson's lead character, Lara McCauley. It is 1983 in Beirut. Ravaged by civil war, this chaotically dangerous region has witnessed enough violence and sadness to shock even veteran correspondents. Lara has come to Beirut to join her husband, Mac, a globe-trotting journalist and danger junkie--one of the "good old boys" among his colleagues at the hotel bar. But as a husband, he's boorish and downright cruel--a man not shy about humiliating Lara in public or getting abusive with her in private.
Problems? Lara's just getting started. She meets the enigmatic Thomas, the son of a Polish engineer father and a Brazilian poet mother. Thomas is fluent in many languages and possesses a deep understanding of Middle Eastern culture. And he treats Lara with the attention and respect she's missing from Mac. The relationship begins as a friendship, but innuendo and cultural misperception can quickly morph into reality.
Season of Betrayal provides enough dramatic tension in the Lara-Mac-Thomas triad to satisfy most readers, but Robertson's singular accomplishment is weaving fact with fiction. The novel manages to be entertaining as well as enlightening, and helps the reader hack through the web of cultures and beliefs that make up the complex tapestry of the Middle East.
Which brings us to yet another literary chestnut that says fiction can be more instructive than facts. Season of Betrayal reinforces that notion while managing to supply readers with enough twists and turns to keep them rapidly turning the pages.
Michael Lee is literary editor of The Cape Cod Voice and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. -- BookPage