Reviewed by Marvin and Francine Weinbaum —
Breaking Faith: A Novel of Espionage and an American’s Crisis of Conscience in Pakistan, by Graham E. Fuller. Bozorg Press, 2015. 484 pages. $18.95 paper.
Middle East Journal, Fall 2015 — A successful political novel seamlessly intertwines fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction provides the author with rich materials from which to fashion a strong narrative. Its characters and story line can acquire greater verisimilitude by being set in identifiable life situations and historical context. Fiction provides the literary license that allows for more vivid description than can expository writing alone. Through dialogue it is possible for the author to capture the intensities with which ideas and values are held and a deeper understanding of political attitudes, motivation and misperceptions. All this Graham Fuller does admirably inBreaking Faith.
This novel is the absorbing account of one Alex Anders, an American son of a missionary family who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and is later recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency and sent to Pakistan. Much of the narrative revolves around his relationship with Majeed Rehman, a close childhood friend, who goes on to serve in the Pakistan premier intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It is a story of individual and family bonding but also of deception and betrayal. It also depicts the tragic intersection of personal and professional lives. The book portrays a capable conscience-driven CIA case officer in the clandestine service who loses faith in his mission. A disillusioned Anders comes to believe that his country’s policies will lead to disaster both for the United States and Pakistan.
Breaking Faith conveys a strong picture of contemporary Pakistani society and its issues. Much of the novel’s plot involves the country’s troubled tribal belt. It offers Fuller an opportunity to describe the area’s code of Pashtunwali, and particularly the importance it accords to honor. Differences over religious traditions are introduced as well in the verbal clashes portrayed between Majeed, a sympathizer of activist political Islam, and his father, a man steeped in passive Sufi Islamic mysticism. Their arguments bring into sharp relief the country’s contrasting dominant Sufi-oriented Barelvi beliefs and the more rigid, literalist Deobandi school. Because the novel revolves in great part around Pakistan’s bout with political extremism, the rhetoric of the country’s hard-line nationalists and Islamists receives a full airing. Fuller provides particular insight into the incentives for the radicalization of Pakistani youth as he relates the recruitment of a Rehman family member by a militant extremist group, a CIA attempt to enlist him as a double agent, and the horrifying events that follow.
Through the Anders character, the author’s affection for aspects of Islamic and Pakistani culture is plainly in evidence. Yet the book also references the misuses of re- ligion, corrupt politicians, exploitation by landlords and injustices to women. One of the more gripping descriptions relates how Majeed’s sister is wrongly accused and disfigured for having challenged tribal society’s norms. Pakistan’s wealthy are pictured in a particularly unflattering light in a description of partying by decadent Westernized youth. Earlier, in a scene of sectarian violence, religious extremists savagely beat Anders’ missionary father, leading to his parents’ departure from Pakistan and his father’s early death.
Strained US-Pakistan relations over the last several decades figure prominently throughout the book’s narratives. Fuller provides a strong sense of the animosity toward the United States felt so widely in Pakistan. Using the voice of Majeed, Fuller captures the views most Pakistani officials and much of the public hold of the United States, particularly a perceived absence of respect for their country’s sovereignty and their suspicions of US intentions. His characters show particular anger over the toll on innocent civilians taken by American “ghost” planes and their missiles. At the same time, American officials are depicted as frustrated by the duplicity and mendacity of Pakistan’s policy makers and their taste for elaborate conspiracy theories. The narrative so well captures the stark differences between American and Pakistani perceptions and interests in its depiction of a brutally candid off-the-record meeting between the US ambassador and the ISI chief.
Much of Breaking Faith serves as a critique of American foreign policy, both in Pakistan and also earlier in Chile, where Anders had served previously. Although Fuller insists that the book is not autobiographical, he undoubtedly draws heavily on his own career experiences in the CIA and specifically his service in the region. His own political preferences are not hard to discern. Fuller uses the novel to express his strong misgivings about American foreign policy in the Pakistan-Afghanistan theater. He paints an unflattering portrait of the bureaucratic mentality within his fictional CIA mission office in Islamabad. He is unsparing in depicting the narrow-mindedness of most officials. Most revealing are descriptions of American and Pakistani spy cultures and the deceptive, amoral means countries employ to recruit informants. Fuller hardly disguises his personal belief that the continued presence of foreign forces exacerbates conflict in Afghanistan and that left to themselves the Afghans would be better able to solve their own problems.
The book has its limits as a source of information about Pakistan and its relations with the US. It is not difficult to point out areas of some oversimplification. Where the plot demands, the author slightly rearranges the order of historical events. One can also question a number of Fuller’s conclusions, including that most Afghans are in fact anxious to see a full, early departure of international forces, or that the case for ending drone operations is so clear-cut. But read primarily as a novel, one whose plot contains surprising twists,Breaking Faith succeeds in being engrossing while also broadly informative.
Marvin Weinbaum and Francine Weinbaum