When Charlotte is kidnapped by Middle Eastern dictator Kassem, panic is only held at bay by a sardonic Inner Voice, which alternately consoles and condemns. While Kassem appears determined to explain every warlike action, Charlotte attempts to instill humanity in the dictator. Inner Voice’s incredulity at such hubris provides much-needed comic relief in an increasingly tense situation, as unbearable loneliness unleashes a storm of unexpected sexual fantasies and complex feelings.
When the promised release date comes and goes, Charlotte embarks on a hunger strike, which ultimately brings about a joyful reunion with her family. However, home life quickly disintegrates into another form of confinement, as Charlotte discovers that Kassem had used her for his propaganda, live streaming their interactions online. Media interest drives the introverted writer even further inward; as her ability to function normally deteriorates, Charlotte becomes convinced that her existence is a liability for her children.
Ultimately a post-modern fable, the novel cleverly plays with perceptions of truth while exploring the concept of imprisonment, the wider impacts of social media, and challenging widely held assumptions about fame. A Hostage probes Western political naiveté along with novelistic hubris as it, often hilariously, explores the relationship of the individual to society.
“Novel within a journal within novel, unreliable narrator, elements of meta-fictional self-reflection, the blurring of fantasy and reality, combining the political and the personal, all swirling through a state-of-the-world Middle East setting: in A Hostage, Charlotte Mendel manages to juggle and balance these in a way that keeps the reader glued to the page. And leading to the final question: To whom (and to what) is the creative artist truly held hostage? Perhaps in the end to their own art.”
—Michael Mirolla, author of The Last News Vendor
Excerpt from Chapter One:
“Anything you want, anything at all, you just need to ask.” There is something genuine about the way he says it, that comforts me.
He’s a psycho mass murderer.
Yeah, but he doesn’t want to hurt me.
I expect he doesn’t really want to hurt Syrians either, but that didn’t prevent him unleashing chemical weapons on them.
Yeah well, they’re pissing him off and I intend to suck his ass. Possibly literally.
“A Hero is based on Syria?”
I swallow quickly. Every word I say might be used against me, but what might the right answer be? How was Kassem portrayed in A Hero anyway? It’s really annoying that I always forget the last book I wrote as soon as I’m into another one; worse that I can never read them again because they invariably produce a gag reflex. So really a waste of time adding my books to this library.
“A simple question,” he prompts.
I’m pretty sure the actual hero in the book supports Kassem. More or less. Until he starts poisoning his own people and stuff like that. I eyeball him with interest. A bona fide madman. “It was inspired by the Arab Spring, really.”
“But it’s obviously based on Syria.”
Why’s he asking if it’s so obvious? “I guess I was particularly interested in the events here.”
Because you were the sexiest of all the Middle Eastern leaders?
“Because you were a leading figure in America’s axis of evil, and I wanted my readers to hate my hero. If he supported an evil leader like you, that would be another strike against him.”
I’ve never managed to acquire the art of pondering one’s words. What I think, I say; I call it verbal vomit. Surely fear should help my verbal vomit? But I don’t feel afraid. Call me stupid or call me a pothead.
Kassem sneers. “The Americans label so many Arab leaders as evil.”
“I guess it depends on your perspective.”
“You will see that I am not evil.”
I take a sip of tea. It is deliciously sweet. Today he’s playing good cop, thank God. And tomorrow…is unfortunately another day.
“You said I just needed to ask to get what I want, so, can I go home?”
He leans forward anxiously, blue eyes fixed on mine. Large blue eyes fringed with abundant dark eyelashes. “Are you not comfortable here?”