Something to Answer For takes place during the 1956 Suez Crisis. This was one of those typically complicated political tangles, and one I knew little about. The crisis involved military action by the British and French, in response to Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal (which in itself was a response to American actions taken when Egypt recognized the People’s Republic of China … and on and on …).
Jack Townrow walks into the middle of all this when his friend Elie Khoury’s widow writes to him requesting help to investigate her husband’s death and settle his affairs. Against his better judgment he travels to Egypt. En route he meets a Jewish man who accuses Townrow — or, rather, the British — of allowing the Holocaust to happen. Townrow is aghast, certain the British government would have prevented genocide if they had known about it. He is equally certain the British can only do good in Egypt.
Soon after his arrival, Townrow is attacked and forgets his identity, his nationality, and many other details. He still tries hard to help Mrs. Khoury, although he questions whether Elie is really dead and sometimes goes off in search of him. He falls for a young woman named Leah, but evil and suspicion lurk around every corner, and it’s difficult for Townrow — and the reader — to tell who the “good guys” really are.
Townrow’s character appears to be a metaphor for the British Empire losing its colonial power, and I’m sure the events were still fresh in readers’ minds when this book was published in 1968. But the metaphor didn’t work for me, I found the plot a bit surreal, and the book very difficult to follow. It just wasn’t my thing.