Prof. Michael F. Palo
VLB, Brussels University
Dreams, hope, history, reality, fact, fiction: these are phenomena that not only stimulate, but also haunt Pierre Giorgio Bosco, the main protagonist of The Checkmate Pendulum. Pierre G, as his co-workers and friends call him, is a TV Journalist-economics editor, to be exact at ENN, the European News Network, based in Paris. When the story begins, our hero seems destined to pursue a career as a typical “infotainer,” more interested in the form and presentation of the news story than in the complexity of its contents and the confusion of its genesis. But in the process of tracking down facts in Transnistria about an alleged hijacked Russian short-range missile capable of delivering a small nuclear warhead, PG realizes his true vocation—getting to the truth behind the story.
An idealist by nature, the Franco-Italian Bosco still believes that, despite its war-prone and imperialist past, Europe, i.e., the 28-state European Union, has turned the page of history. Despite political corruption, economic downturns, shady bankers, stock-market and currency-exchange manipulators, secret arms deals, threats of terrorism, renewed Russian aggressiveness, and the inexorable rise of China, the Western World Order, sustained by the US military and economic might and supported by the mainly soft power of the EU and Japan, seems too strong to overcome. After all, did not the fall of the Berlin Wall, which Pierre G witnessed and covered first hand, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union mark the “end of history” and the start of a triumphal era of democracy, free-market capitalism, and prosperity? To be sure, the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia, the rise of radical Islam, the “war on terror” after 9/11, the unending Israel-Palestine conflict, and Russia’s heavy-handedness in Chechnya, Georgia, and now Ukraine have served as reminders that the history of conflict as we have known it is not quite at an end, while the financial collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed have demonstrated that we still have not escaped the “boom-and-bust” cycle that Marx said in 1848 was the fatal flaw that would lead to the inevitable death of capitalism. But Pierre G Bosco does not see the danger until he starts digging deeper, tries to connect the dots, and realizes that the complex picture that emerges is not one to inspire hope.
As we follow Pierre G on his travels we are introduced to a transnational cast of characters as well as a myriad of places, many of which most readers will not have
heard. If nothing else, this novel teaches us a lot of geography and a fair amount of history. We also learn a good deal about weapons, both big and small, financial
institutions, and the meaning of a whole host of acronyms. Above all, we learn about chess. This is not to say that the book is pedantic. On the contrary, the novel has been written with passion and verve; there is never a dull moment as we follow Pierre G Bosco from his German lover Martha’s bed in Berlin, to the Krasnaia Besarabia Inn in Grigoriopol, Chisniau, to the capital of Moldova, back to Berlin, then to Paris, Brussels, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, and eventually to Ukraine and China. We are introduced to the contorted mechanisms of banking in Germany and China and gain insight into the symbiotic relationship between free-market capitalism in the West and state capitalism in Communist China. Virtual money, such as Bitcoin, and crypto-financial transactions via the Internet are also discussed. As the murders of prominent people multiply the curiosity of the reader grows along with that of Pierre G. It slowly dawns on him that figurative chess games are being played globally by all the major players: it’s a high-stakes game that may end in tragedy eventually. And not only for him. In reading the story, this reader was struck by its pertinence to current events and the fact that bad things can—and do— happen to innocent people. By this point in the novel, the suspense has built up to an excruciating point, especially when we learn that Pierre G was most likely the assassination target.
PG is a man preoccupied not only by the mystery of the hijacked Russian missile, money-laundering and the unexplained deaths, but also by the fears engendered by Germany because of its current pre-dominance in Europe and the historical memories associated with the Third Reich. For Pierre G, who was once so certain that the European Union had put an end to such concerns, the reality of neo-Nazi racial attacks and the exertion of Berlin’s will in economic matters has caused him to question his assumptions.
But what is real? Part of the answer lies in his purely journalistic instinct to get to the bottom of the story. Another part stems from his belief in the European project. He just can’t accept that Europe should just lie back and allow itself to be dictated to by China, Russia, Germany, or the U.S.—the four corners of an imaginary geo-political kite proposed by US General Powel (Bat). But PG’s main motivation is a desire to defeat the hidden enemy. He is determined not to see the forces of evil checkmate the values he cherishes.
The novel ends with a quotation from The Bible: Let not compassion and truth forsake you Bind them around your neck Write them on the tablet of your heart. (Pv. 3:3)
With The Checkmate Pendulum Antonio Maria Costa has provided us with an insider’s look at the complex and terrifying World we live in today. The novel is a veritable tour de force, which takes us through most of the issues that trouble international peace and make us insecure. The book teaches not only that it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, but also that we must keep trying to ascertain what’s really going on. It also teaches that we ignore history at our peril, not so much
because there are “lessons” that must be learned, but because only by studying history can we appreciate the complexity of human affairs, the elusiveness of truth, and the need for us to assume responsibility for what we do. Our actions have consequences.
It is up to us to think carefully as to whether or not those consequences are positive or negative. The book’s main message is also an Orwellian one. Not only is Big Brother watching, Little Brother is too! In a World that has become increasingly connected electronically and digitally, there is no place to hide, especially in cyber space. The more we become dependent on computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices, the more we rely on the Internet to communicate, there’s almost nothing about us that someone else does not know—whether it be governments keeping records of our phone calls and emails or private companies watching our “likes” on Facebook in order better to sell us something. We not only talk and shop online; we also bank online. Hence, it is no surprise that hackers are “phishing” for our passwords or that governments are checking up on us for our own security. Indeed, we live in an age of cyber espionage and even cyber war. The Checkmate Pendulum gives us a glimpse into this “Brave New World.”
In short, this is a book for our times—one that should be read by people very concerned with where our World is heading. Though a work of fiction, The Checkmate Pendulum is filled with facts and arguments that could have been presented just as well in a state-of-our-times book-length essay. A. M. Costa is certainly qualified to write such a study. But he has decided to entertain as well as inform us, and for this we are grateful. He also intends to have the book turned into a screenplay, which is very good news. We await the movie with impatience! We are also hopeful that the author will write a sequel. We’d like to know how Pierre Giorgio Bosco decides to report to the World the incredible story that he has scooped.
12 October 2014
Prof. Michael F. Palo
VLB, Brussels University