September 22, 2014
‘Argentina’s enigmatic history appealed to me’
For the Herald
Craig Page, CIA agent and lead character in Allan Topol’s novels, has taken his author all over the world. With Craig and his next adventure always in mind, Topol has travelled to China, Russia and Spain to see for himself the next setting for his character’s patriotic feats. This time, Craig has brought Topol to Argentina to write his latest thriller The Argentine Triangle, where Page has to undertake a mission that will take him to high-end places in Recoleta and small cabins in the middle of nowhere in Bariloche. Topol talked to the Herald about his new book, and what he could observe about Argentina’s current situation during his stay here.
What do you look for in a country when you choose one to set your books in? What appealed to you about Argentina specifically?
I choose places that are facing difficult and critical international geopolitical issues: in The China Gambit, it was the growth of China’s military power; in The Spanish Revenge, the conflict between Christians and Muslims in Europe; and in The Russian Endgame, the resurgence of Russia on the world stage and its alliance with China. Argentina appealed to me for a novel because of its fascinating and enigmatic history. Also, Argentina has an incredibly diverse population, plentiful natural resources, and talented people. Along with these is a varied industrial output including oil, wine, and beef; and the economy is in transition.
We’re seeing more and more fiction about politics, from books like yours to TV shows like Veep or House of Cards. Why do you think the public is so interested in the genre?
Public interest in the genre arises from a number of factors. One is the vicarious thrill of being on the outside looking in on the exercise of power. Another is that politics has real drama. Watching people on the highest levels interact is exciting. This is a factor which has kept Shakespeare’s plays, like Julius Caesar, so popular. Finally, people like to see the mighty fall which so often happens in this drama. They watch to see the villains get caught.
Fiction is increasingly showing characters who influence powerful people in government but weren’t chosen by the people to have a say on political matters, like Edward Bryce in your novel. Do you think there’s a way to keep political issues exclusively in the hands of government representatives?
It is not possible simply because people who occupy high offices are still people. They have close relationships and friendships; and they feel comfortable and secure with those with whom they enjoy these relationships and friendships. As a result, it is only natural that they would rely upon these people. This has been true throughout all of history for figures as diverse as Chinese emperors, Russian czars, and American presidents. Some of those who have occupied advisory positions have been primarily motivated by a desire to help their country; for others being close to power, and indeed sharing in it, was an ego boost — an aphrodisiac. To change the system would take an act of Congress requiring the president’s closest advisors to have congressional confirmation. Even if this were done, it would not cover the president’s golfing buddies, drinking pals, or family friends — all of whom can influence the exercise of power.
In your book, there’s a military man about to rise to power in Argentina. Some people would agree that this is possible, while others would argue that Argentines are still too appalled by the atrocities perpetrated during the last dictatorship, and that the mindset has radically changed. Where do you stand on this? Do you think the military could rise to power in Argentina in the near future?
In general, I fear that a charismatic military man could rise to power in any country in which economic conditions are sufficiently bad and the country is in chaos. The military man could take advantage of people’s overriding desire for economic improvement and law and order. With respect to Argentina, democracy has gained a very strong foothold and many Argentines are still too appalled by what happened that, like Nicole in The Argentine Triangle, they will fight with all they have to prevent another rule of the generals. The difficulty is that in any democracy a military man, such as General Estrada, can seek the presidency. If he is charismatic and if economic conditions are bad and crime has increased, he could prevail even in a fair election.@verostewart