The geopolitics of oil are very complex, and even though I regularly read The Economist, I didn’t realize just how complex they are until I read Eclipse. I’ve seen firsthand the environmental damage that oil can cause on a visit to the jungle in Ecuador where I got an eye infection from swimming in a polluted lake. But if South America is bad in terms of corruption and environmental neglect, well Africa is off the charts.
I’ve heard it said that the discovery of oil in Africa was a death sentence to its people and at first I couldn’t understand why. Shouldn’t something so valuable actually raise the standard of living for the impoverished? Apparently not. Through this fictional story and its fictional tribal leader Bobby Okari, Author Richard North Patterson explains:
“Oil blackens everything it touches. It fouls the hands of the ruling class that misappropriates its profits. It stains the ambitions of the young, who in their desperation will pick up a gun, sabotage a pipeline, kidnap a foreigner to grab their pitiful share of the riches. It elevates the powerful and drowns the weak.” (p. 6)
And that’s not all. As we journey through the made-up country of Luandia (standing in for Nigeria) with lawyer Damon Pierce who is there to defend Bobby Okari from trumped up charges in a kangaroo court set up by the country’s dictator “Savior” Karama, we learn about the players in the global oil trade and how things like oil futures, oil bunkering, and arms trading muck up the picture even more. The narrative culminates in a trial so patently ludicrous in its total lack of regard for human rights and international law that it would be funny if it weren’t so galling.
In case you think all of this sounds kind of boring, it’s not. Even though there is a fair amount of necessary exposition, Patterson succeeds in making us care for his characters, lending the novel a thrilling urgency. It reminded me in some ways of John le Carre’s The Constant Gardener so if you liked that or other international geopolitical thrillers, then you should definitely check this one out.
Eclipse is out in hardcover now.