This month, Carr is seeing the publication of Devils of Cardona, his historical novel set in 16th century Spain. At once, it is a murder mystery as well as a look at the Inquisition and the tensions between the Catholics and the Moriscos (Muslims) forced to convert to Christianity at the time. Carr, a journalist who holds a history degree from the University of London, is most known for his nonfiction, including The Infernal Machine: A History of Terrorism From the Assassination of Tsar Alexander II to Al-Qaeda and Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain. We caught up with Carr, 60, by phone from Derbyshire, England.
What's on your nightstand?
At the moment, I'm reading Illegality, Inc. by Ruben Andersson. It is about undocumented migrants. He went into the countries where the migrants were from and looked at what was happening there. It is a terrific book. I also have A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I was interested in it because I lived in Jamaica.
And did Marlon James do a good job?
I think the first 500 pages were some of the most scorching writing I've read in years. It's a very long book, 700 pages. It's about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976, and I felt it dropped off when it got to the U.S. part of the story. I felt when he was writing about Jamaica, he was writing brilliantly, the way he described almost a mythical world involving gangsters. Writers might not always find it easy to give voices to those people who are not like them, and he takes you into this world, the world with ghetto gangsters. It's worth remembering the CIA operation of Jamaica. They were pouring guns into Kingston, basically to knock off Michael Manley's government. My parents knew the Manley family. They knew Norman Manley. I thought Marlon James not only takes his readers into the world of characters, he shows how the operation was carried out, the overlapping political forces that were converging.
Any other books you'd like to mention?
There's a terrific book, The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud. It is a response to Camus' The Stranger from the point of view of the brother of the Arab that was shot. It's so good. It deconstructs the story. It's short. He packs a lot of ideas in the slim book.
How related is terrorism in our world today to your decision to write a novel concerning 16th century Spain with its divisive relationship between Muslims and Christians?
I always wanted to write fiction. It did not just come up, and it's not just using history for lessons of the present and the idea you find warnings when you look back, but history gets you to enter a world inhabited by people who don't think like you. When you go back, you will recognize humans, but they are operating to an entirely different set of moral standards, legal codes and so on.
Since you are well-versed in international affairs and have a viewpoint from Europe, what is your opinion of the current political landscape here in the United States?
I find American politics extremely alarming now, to see the rise of Donald Trump. When I hear people ask about how Trump could have happened, and I hear them say how it's shameful, all I can say is that when you have political leaders behaving the way they have been for some time, with some of the colossal indifference of the large population when it comes to the disintegration of the middle class, when it comes to situations like (the Flint water crisis), then I'm not surprised with someone like Trump. It seems to suggest a real disillusionment with the system. It doesn't seem to matter to some of them if this person is good or bad. It seems to be as long as you can skillfully present yourself as an outsider you will get somewhere.
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