David Aikman’s When the Almond Tree Blossoms reads as if it was written about 2016.
David Aikman, former senior foreign correspondent for Time magazine and founder of Gegrapha, first published When the Almond Tree Blossoms in 1993, as the Cold War ended and political polarization grew in the United States. Twenty-three years later, his novel is as timely as ever. He published a new edition on September 1, 2016. Get it on Amazon.com! Let’s give his new book a rousing send-off!
The 2016 presidential election pits unabashed socialists and jaded capitalists against each other, and the nation seems more politically polarized than it’s been since the Civil War. This book is a reminder of what’s at stake: not only freedom, but life and peace.
The novel is a futuristic action thriller written in the 1990s that projects possible developments in a few years later.
Scenario: the time. Is the late 1990s. the United States is under the control of the People’s movement, a progressive regime that took power after a revolutionary putsch earlier in the decade. The People’s movement controls the major cities of the West and East Coast and of the Midwest. The insurgents leading a rebellion against them call themselves the Constitutionalists. The People’s movement is supported by the Russians who are ultranationalist and as socially reactionary in social policy as the People’s movement is progressive.
The Russians, who are conducting an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy, would rather see the People’s movement win the American Civil War than the constitutionalists, who, if they won the war, might restore America as a global world superpower and thus limit the ambitions of Russia all over the world. But the People’s movement needs help from the Russians for two reasons. First, it is are finding it difficult to combat the constitutionalists. Second, the People’s movement is reluctant to admit that the constitutionalists may have access to nuclear missile submarines which, if they really existed, would be an effective deterrent against the People’s movement. The Russians, naturally, are very eager to locate this deterrent and destroy it before it enables the constitutionalists to win the Civil War.
Caught up in this tangle is a mid-level bureaucrat working for the People’s movement called Douglas Critchfield . Richfield is an eyewitness to the killing of an important constitutionalist agent whom the People’s movement wants to capture alive. Shortly after the shooting, he uses his impressive looking security documents to rescue an attractive young woman from obstructionist bureaucrats at the New York City library. The woman is Rachel, who works for the Caleb Foundation. a private non-profit agency organization dedicated to helping American Jews emigrate to Israel.
A senior Russian counterintelligence officer called Ponomarev has been requested by the People’s movement to come to New York and help track down details of Project Almond,the constitutionalists’ nuclear deterrent, The Russian locates Richfield and tries to use him as a double agent to penetrate the Constitutionalists.
For various reasons, notably including his attraction to Rachel, and his resentment of the bullying by Ponomarev, Richfield is disillusioned with the People’s movement and prepared to work for their opponents in the Civil War. After a series of dangerous adventures Richfield finds himself in Montana and meets the Constitutionalists’ military general Hodges. He agrees to return to New York as a double agent for the constitutionalists. His immediate task is to communicate by broadcast with the American nuclear submarines that the details of their existence and operation has still been kept secret. In a tense concluding chapter of the book Richfield has to ensure that the words “almond tree” are included in a broadcast of a Palestrina mass from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. The words will be a code to signal to the three Ohio class submarines that the secret of their location has not been discovered by the People’s movement or by Russian intelligence.
The back story: what precipitated the Civil War in the first place was a disastrous American military adventure in the Middle East, an attempt to support a military coup to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Russians, who support the Iranians, were able to frustrate the American military plan and capture several thousand American troops. As a precondition of their release the Russians demand that the US government sign a “Strategic Reordering Treaty, which is in effect a nuclear surrender document by the US. According to the terms of the surrender, all American military forces throughout the world must be turned over to Russian control.
But a secret Pentagon plan, Project Almond , had foreseen this possibility and has prearranged that the Ohio-class “boomer” missile submarines will not surrender to the Russians but will continue on patrol, loyal to their original command structure as long as they can.
When the serving American president Hopkins realizes he has to accept the surrender terms, he asks the senate to ratify the treaty. But the Senate, in the hands of political conservatives, refuses. This leads to an uneasy standoff: the American economy is plunging into a deep recession because of the shock of the American defeat and the unwillingness of other countries to continue investing in the US. Meanwhile, progressive and the indeed revolutionary forces throughout the US have been demanding a complete overthrow of constitutional rule and of capitalism itself.
Incidents of extreme violence occur in Washington, New York and other East Coast cities as revolutionary forces challenge the law and order protected by regular police forces. Soon an uprising in Washington DC (“the Washington uprising”) sets in motion a real political revolution in which the underclasses take over political power in major American cities. The political uprising calls itself “the People’s movement.” By contrast, military bases in the US largely reject the US surrender order and begin to form armies opposed to the People’s movement and determined to maintain traditional constitutional order in the country.
They call themselves the “Constitutionalists.” The most prominent and the best organized constitutionalist force is the Army of Western Montana commanded by former US four-star general Lucius Hodges. There are five or six separate armies supporting the Constitutionalists.
The future of American democracy hangs in the balance.