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Book Report: Books have political verve, movie potential

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If you're wondering how we ever got so disastrously involved in Iraq, you might begin by reading "Arrows of the Night," by Richard Bonin (Doubleday, $27.95).

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It's subtitled, "Ahmad Chalabi's Long Journey to Triumph in Iraq."

I had heard of Chalabi and seen him on TV, but because international diplomacy isn't high on my list of interests, I forgot about him.

Not so for Richard Bonin, a "60 Minutes" producer, who did specials on Chalabi and convinced him now that the dust has settled to be give many, many interviews.

This book reads like a gripping adventure story and should be made into a movie.

Seems Chalabi comes from an ancient Iraqi family, very rich and influential even though they were Shiites and in the political minority.

After Chalabi's banker father died, his son set out to get rid of Saddam Hussein by any means possible.

How this MIT-educated math professor managed to do it, how, over the course of 40 years, he involved the U.S., manipulated the neocons, how he stopped at nothing, is told with great flair by Bonin and the many people involved in interviews.

It all began in 1958, when after the revolution, his family was exiled. Several attempts followed and after failures he realized that he must not just involve Iraq's neighbor Iran, but must marshal the forces of the United States.

With all the news coming out of Greece lately, Stillwater author Pat Ferguson Hanson has chosen a serendipitous time to publish, "It Was Greek to Me" (Xlibris, n.p.).

It's not a happy time for Greece these days, but Hanson remembers her years there with great affection.

A Twin Cities girl she graduated from Creighton University in Omaha and landed what all of us would have called a dream job with the Voice of America. Then she got a better job as assistant cultural attaché at the U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece.

Her charming memoir of those days is written with great affection. She seemingly remembers every meal she ever ate in that city and out in the country.

As I read the book it was almost as good as going back to a long-ago trip we took to Greece.

My mouth watered as she described the delicious cucumber dip, the eggplant casserole, the bitter retsina wine that was part of her everyday experience in the old cradle of civilization.

Hanson was a prim and proper Roman Catholic girl, a product of Annunciation. She went to Greece covetous of her virginity and of the mores and folkways of Minneapolis.

Of course, she met continental men in Athens, including George, who had bad breath, and Thanasis, a Greek novelist who pursued her with great lust. She's shocked when he tells her that he has slept with his best friend's wife.

Eventually, she gives in to Thanasis. When she does, she's not coy about it with her readers. Some of the passages are rather steamy, but not prurient.

Along the way, she tells about her adventures as cultural attaché, organizing gallery events, and meeting and spending time with the likes of dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and movie director Elia Kazan.

As her tenure in Athens wore on, the relationship with Thanasis soured when values collided and finally they break up. Years later she hears from a friend that Thanasis had bedded her on a bet.

"It hurt me to hear that," she writes. "I wanted to believe that I had meant more to Thanasis than just another notch on his belt."

Eventually our heroine returns to Minnesota, marries Jim Hanson raises a family and teaches communications at UW-River Falls.

Recently, she returned to Athens after many years, this time with a husband.

They are treated to an elaborate dinner by the indefatigable Thanasis, who has never married, but has a new girlfriend.

So it all ends happier than it did for Katharine Hepburn in that wonderful old movie "Summertime," when she discovers that her new Italian boyfriend (Rossano Brazzi) is already married.

Come to think of it "It was Greek to Me" might just make a good movie.

Senior Moment Department: I've been informed by Jim Collison of the fascinating Music Man Square in Mason City that Meredith Willson did not write "The Pajama Game," which was also set in Iowa, but written by Adler and Ross. I also referred to a man I thought was Meredith Willson's brother. Not so, said Collison. Maybe a cousin?

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