The Mirage by Matt Ruff is a complex vision of an alternate reality. Ruff takes everything we know about the recent history surrounding the War on Terrorism and our interactions with the Middle East and turns it upside down. The United States does not exist. Instead there is a Christian States of America and numerous other independent countries including The Republic of Texas, and the independent countries of Louisiana and Mississippi. The Middle East is united into the United Arab States. Most important to the story is that Americans hijacked airplanes and attacked the Arab world in an act of terrorism.
Central to the story are Mustafa, Amal, and Samir, Homeland Security agents employed with the task to search out Christian insurgents. Within their investigations they begin to find evidence of an ideology-destroying concept that the Arab world they live in is not real, that it is only an illusion of reality. Others in Baghdad know of the theory as well. Saddam Hussein, a Baathist gangster much like a mafia don, is interested in the theory due to his relatively powerful position within the theory. Also interested is Osama bin Laden, the head of the UAS’s version of the CIA known as Al Qaeda. In his view, any trace of the theory needs to be censored and destroyed, in order to maintain the peace and security of the UAS. Each character has something to lose or gain within this alternate theory of existence. As the investigations by every involved party progress, it becomes clear that allegiances will be tested.
The juxtaposition of reality to a hypothetical situation accentuates the concept of a shared history. Ruff challenges the basic ideology that Christians and Muslims are different by emphasizing the basic human experiences involved with war. Each character has a unique desire to change the world, and that accentuates that whether one is Christian or Muslim, everyone strives for a better life. He also emphasizes the idea that no matter what governing system a culture has, there will always be corruption. At times, however, it is hard to envision Ruff’s alternative world due to the knowledge that dominates our preconceived understanding of current affairs.
I think a lot of people will pass The Mirage up based on its subject, others will view it as utterly ridiculous, and a select few will be amazed at its uniqueness.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.