Select one of the keywords
Back Channel    by Stephen L. Carter order for
Back Channel
by Stephen L. Carter
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

The time is October 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis. Americans are preparing for nuclear war. The leadership in Washington is set on being the first to strike. And Kennedy delays.

Though we know the outcome of all this, reading Back Channel will still have you on the edge of your seat. What is a back channel anyway? It is a path of communication hidden from everyone except Khrushchev and Kennedy and the two people who carry messages back and forth between them. Is this a true story? Yes and no. Author Carter points out in his Historical Note the differences between his story and what really happened.

Margo Jensen, a young black college student, suddenly finds her life upended when she catches the eye of her Conflict Theory professor at Cornell. At very short notice she leaves her Nana, friends and classes to attend a Chess Olympiad in Varna, Bulgaria. And that's only the beginning. Good thing she is very observant and not easily put off from her goal because various groups are trying to deter her, even to the point of shooting at her. Two men keep Margo going: her father, the circumstances of whose death in World War II have recently come into question, and the President of the United States.

At the end Margo does not know whom to trust, and neither do we. The pressure is terrific, especially at the top. There is definite momentum to invade Cuba; in fact we are hours away from doing so. Margo has no end of difficulty trying to deliver her final message as part of the back channel, and we can't wait to find out, not whether, but how she will be successful.

A professor of law and author of insightful works of nonfiction, Stephen Carter also seems to have fun playing with stories set in certain historical periods. I have enjoyed every one of his novels. The first three were, I think, most impressive to me because they were stories of powerful and rich black people, a population not often portrayed in fiction. What is interesting is that some of the people in those novels show up in this one as well. It's going to be fun to make their acquaintance again as I re-read those first books.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Historical books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews