Monday, September 13, 2010

Guest Post: Frederick Reuss

Frederick Reuss was gracious enough to do a guest post for my blog and I can't thank him enough. I have posted a review of his new book so be sure to check it out.

Frederick Reuss’ new novel, A GEOGRAPHY OF SECRETS, out on September 7th, is a meditation on secrecy in Washington, in the life of the city and in the life of the private individuals who work in and for it.

It wasn’t until my father died that I realized how much I didn’t know about him. He was quiet and kept to himself. Wasn’t a big talker. It seemed something to be proud of – having a quiet, reserved, strong dad. But he was also unhappy and died looking old and worn out at sixty one. What had worn him out so? From outside he was not much different from the other fathers. Took the N4 bus to work. Came home at night. When we were posted overseas there was an amped up feel to everything about our life – official cars and houses and functions and nobody ever asked what, exactly, it was that he did. Cultural attaché was one title. Public affairs officer, another. He worked for USIA—United States Information Agency (which was called USIS overseas, for US Information Service to avoid confusion with CIA). During the Cold War, the mission of the agency was to spread the American gospel around the world by cultural means. Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. The very first concert I ever went to was Charlie Byrd. USIA sponsored tours. America Houses – big public libraries where people around the world could have free access to American books and movies and music.

We never doubted it was what he did, that it was a good thing to be doing. We were proud of him. But many of the places he traveled to now read like an itinerary of the worst political meltdowns of the mid-20th century. Aside from the postings in Ethiopia, Nigeria, India, Germany and Switzerland, he’d spent significant time in Tel Aviv, Cairo, Beirut, Saigon, Lisbon and Tripoli. A picture of him once appeared in the Herald Tribune -- arriving in Zürich with a woman who had been jailed by the Iranian government on spying charges. The photo caption identifies him as a bodyguard, and he looks straight from central casting. Trench coat. Beard. George Clooney in the movie Syriana – except that it was 1981. I always wondered about that picture. He thought it was funny. The bodyguard bit. Then there are the Vietnam pictures that show him with a gun slung over his shoulder…

Everyone wants to be proud of their parents. To think of them as good people doing good things – even in tragic situations or if things don’t turn out quite as had been hoped – the instinct is to protect that essential goodness. When doubt creeps in, it’s like a slow drip and creates a ripple effect; and when you begin to dig and a broader, wider world opens up – the man and the life begins to shrink down and suddenly everything becomes a context within a context. You dig and dig and eventually you hit a wall, there is nothing left to rely on and everything goes quiet. Nobody wants to talk. Think of Germany after the war – quiet for a generation and nobody living had done anything wrong, yet there is this heavy atmosphere of regret that hangs over everything and you want to know what and why and who and where and when. The answers may not be accessible, but it’s nonetheless important to ask the questions. A GEOGRAPHY OF SECRETS is an attempt to frame some of them.

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