Is 'Inshallah' a battle worth fighting? Oriana Fallaci takes on Mideast

December 10, 1992|By Tom Panzenhagen | Tom Panzenhagen,Knight-Ridder News Service

"Inshallah" opens with dogs of war scavenging the streets o war-torn Beirut as a brigade of Italian peacemakers slumbers. It closes with the indestructible dogs yelping from the docks as the beleaguered Italians withdraw -- the cries of the dogs echoing the sound of "Inshallah . . . Destiny."

The fate of the Italians had been sealed long ago. Their presence in Lebanon makes no difference. The dogs of war prevail.

The pointlessness of war is the point of Oriana Fallaci's novel. It's a point she makes over and over and over. For 600 pages we're inundated with the horrors of battle, with the savagery of the combatants, with the hopelessness of the night. Hers is a world inhabited by Christian mongrels, Muslim curs and Phalangist mutts.

Everyone's to blame and all suffer. War is hell.

"Inshallah" never wavers from the thesis. It's dead-ahead, straight-on relentless in its treatment of battle and the mistreatment of the pawns of war. Body parts shower from bomb sites, innocence is strafed and no good deed goes unpunished. When, as a reader, you survive a particularly gruesome sequence, you feel like a dog-faced soldier who has survived the battle.

Yet there's no doubt the war remains lost.

Maybe that's good, and maybe that's exactly what Ms. Fallaci intended. But eventually the countless descriptions of heinous war crimes have a numbing effect. They become redundant and desensitizing, like war, and all we want is for it to end.

Point well taken.

Ms. Fallaci at her seldom-realized best transcends the battlefield even when writing about its atrocities. In one beautifully chilling scene she charts the path of a cartridge from Whittier, Calif., where it was invented in 1952, to the skull of a sleeping Italian soldier.

With the cool dispatch of a mathematician and the eloquence of a poet, Ms. Fallaci describes how the bullet -- which the author dubs a "she" -- entered the right hemisphere of Rocco's cerebellum.

"Satisfied, she paused for a thousandth of a second, the time to catch her breath, look around, understand where she was. Then she proceeded in search of the agreeable place in which to explode, and broke into the hippocampus which is the center of memory. Here she found a vault with the remembrance of a childhood which had left nothing to remember but the useless and thoughtless freedom of kids, then the recollection of a squalid adolescence: a taste of youth made melancholic by the awareness of being ugly and mistreated by everybody.

"Come-here, get-over-there, do-what-I-tell-you. She also found the dark image of a basement lit by a tiny window."

"Inshallah" is an intense book, probably too intense for its own good. One thing it is not, however, is history. Ms. Fallaci, appearing on a recent television show, said she learned more about Napoleon by reading "War and Peace" than from studying historical accounts. The implication is one may learn much about Mideast insurrections by reading "Inshallah."

Don't believe it. Journalism is no substitute for history, but don't cancel your subscription to the New York Times just yet.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Inshallah."

Author: Oriana Fallaci.

Publisher: Doubleday.

Length, price: 600 pages, $25.

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