Monday, August 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM
E-mail article Lit Life
Robert Ferrigno's 'Assassin' trilogy, a topsy-turvy alternative history
Kirkland author Robert Ferrigno's "Assassin" trilogy features an America that's converted to Islam after a long, grueling war — it has fans in France, Russia, China and throughout the Arabic-speaking world. The third novel in the trilogy has just been published, and Ferrigno reads at several Seattle area locations this month.
By Mary Ann Gwinn
Seattle Times book editor
It was shortly after 9/11, and the United States had just declared war on Iraq. This is what Kirkland author Robert Ferrigno was hearing: "Everyone was so gung-ho, saying 'We'll go to war, we'll kick butt, we'll be out in two weeks.' But writers like to invert logic. I thought, 'What if it's a long war?' "
Ferrigno (pronounced Fur-Eeen-Yo) wasn't a prescient foreign-policy expert but a successful writer of thrillers, set mostly in Southern California with a good-guy-faces-hard-choices theme. But he took a risk: he started writing what publishing calls an "alternative history," a novel that takes a pivot point in history and then goes in the opposite direction.
Ferrigno's premise was "in a long war, it's the spiritual strength of the combatants that matters." Devotees of Islam are fervent and have exceedingly long memories. Americans, on the other hand ... " 'If it's an hour old, it's too old' ... 'If we can't win, we want to get out now.' "
Thus was born Ferrigno's 2006 "Prayers for the Assassin." Washington, D.C., New York and Mecca have been nuked, and Zionist fanatics are blamed. Repelled and worn out by a long war, most Americans have converted to Islam and pledge allegiance to the Islamic States of America (capital: Seattle!), though it's in conflict with a swath of the Christian Bible Belt. But bad guys, including a radical right-wing Islamic sect named the Black Robes, are trying to seize power, and only an elite soldier named Rakkim Epps stands in their way.
"Prayers" got rave reviews and was followed by a second book: "Sins of the Assassin." Now the third in the trilogy is out: "Heart of the Assassin." Ferrigno's counterintuitive premise turned him into an amateur scholar on Islam and connected him with a worldwide audience.
Surprisingly, he has a devoted military readership: "The military likes the fact that the stakes are so high, that this is a fight for values and sovereignty. There is a continuity to Islam, a sense of right and wrong, and the military has a sense of right and wrong. If you tell a lie at West Point, you get thrown out."
And a good chunk of his international readers are Muslim. Foreign versions of the "Assassin" books were first published in Turkey, an Islamic country with a secular government (just like his fictional version). They've been published in the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, France, China and Russia. The Egyptian edition has been distributed throughout the Arabic-speaking world.
Ferrigno has a spirited correspondence with his Muslim readers; "even the angry ones are trying to educate me," he says, laughing. "But 98 percent of the comments are positive; they feel it's so rare that Muslims are treated as human beings."
It's been a long haul; six years of contemplating religious war and apocalyptic terror. But here's the rewarding part of writing entertaining, thought-provoking books — people read them. He got a letter after "Prayers" was published from an English working-class guy in his 20s. "He said 'Prayers for the Assassin' was the first book he ever read all the way through," Ferrigno says.
Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at www.king.org/pages/4216533.php
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