Friday, April 27, 2012

Forgotten Books: Jimgrim and Allah's Peace by Talbot Mundy

"If T.E. Lawrence had chosen to continue as a British officer in the Near East," says the dust jacket copy, "he would have been involved in this kind of adventure. For here, as only Talbot Mundy can tell it, is the exciting story of post war Palestine, with its race hatreds, its writhing mobs, and its political plots and counterplots."

And yeah, that's a pretty fair description of what this book is about. James Grim is American officer who rode with Lawrence of Arabia in helping the Arabs throw off the yoke of the Ottoman Empire, then stuck around to deal with the mess after the British and French reneged on their promises to establish an Arab state. 

This novel, introducing Mundy's long-running character Jimgrim, is like three books in one. Two of those are adventure stories. They originally appeared in Adventure magazine in 1921 as "The Adventure at El-Kerak" and "Under the Dome of the Rock."  But best of all, the novel offers an insider's view of 1920 Jerusalem and a fascinating look at early days of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the first story, Jimgrim faces an Arab uprising that threatens to oust the British from Palestine, while in the second he uncovers an Arab plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock and blame it on Zionists, bringing about a worldwide jihad. 

Mundy's prose, though now over ninety years old, is still remarkably fresh. That guy really knew how to turn a phrase, and his introduction to Jerusalem gave me plenty of smiles:

El Kudz, as Arabs call Jerusalem, is, from a certain distance, as they also call it, shellabi kabir.  Extremely beautiful.  Beautiful upon a mountain.  El Kudz means The City, and in a certain sense it is that, to unnumbered millions of people.  Ludicrous, uproarious, dignified, pious, sinful, naively confidential, secretive, altruistic, realistic.  Hoary-ancient and ultra-modern.  Very, very proud of its name Jerusalem, which means City of Peace.  Full to the brim with the malice of certainly fifty religions, fifty races, and five hundred thousand curious political chicaneries disguised as plans to save our souls from hell and fill some fellow’s purse.  The jails are full.

“Look for a man named Grim,” said my employer.  “James Schuyler Grim, American, aged thirty-four or so.  I’ve heard he knows the ropes.”

The ropes, when I was in Jerusalem before the war, were principally used for hanging people at the Jaffa Gate, after they had been well beaten on the soles of their feet to compel them to tell where their money was hidden.  The Turks entirely understood the arts of suppression and extortion, which they defined as government.  The British, on the other hand, subject their normal human impulse to be greedy, and their educated craving to be gentlemanly white man’s burden-bearers, to a process of compromise.  Perhaps that isn’t government.  But it works.  They even carry compromise to the point of not hanging even their critics if they can possibly avoid doing it.  They had not yet, but they were about to receive a brand-new mandate from a brand-new League of Nations, awkwardly qualified by Mr. Balfour’s post-Armistice promise to the Zionists to give the country to the Jews, and by a war-time promise, in which the French had joined, to create an Arab kingdom for the Arabs.

So there was lots of compromising being done, and hell to pay, with no one paying, except, of course, the guests in the hotels, at New York prices.

Jimgrim and Allah's Peace is available free in a variety of ebook formats at various places on the web.

Your free ticket to more Forgotten Books will be available Friday a.m. at pattinase.


Rick said...

Free for the Kindle at

George said...

I just downloaded this to my iPad. I've enjoyed all the Talbot Mundy books and ebooks I've read.