Synopses & Reviews
In the not-too-distant future, national identity cards are mandatory, and America has become obsessed with intelligence-gathering. The government's scrutiny is omnipresent, civilians freely indulge their curiosity on the Internet, journalists pursue their investigations with relentless determination, and children both snoop on their parents and manipulate new technologies.
In Seattle, the unfulfilled actor Tad Zachary now performs mostly in the Department of Homeland Security's fictional disaster scenarios, while his friend and neighbor Lucy Bengstrom struggles to support her eleven-year-old daughter, Alida, on a freelance journalist's meager income with their landlord providing additional threats. Then Lucy is assigned to write a profile of August Vanags, a retired professor turned best-selling author with his memoir of a childhood ravaged by World War II, but the validity of his account grows questionable, even as Lucy and Alida are charmed by both Vanags and his lonesome wife.
Everyone here is under surveillance or conducting it, and at risk of confusing what might be true for what actually is a distinction not easily honored in a time of personal stress and widespread panic, when terrorist attack and literary fraud lurk around every corner. With precision and compassion, Jonathan Raban captures not only a peculiar period in our ongoing history but also a rich variety of lives caught up in fault lines that reach throughout society.
"[A] well-realized novel....A coolly delivered portrait of the Wired Age, when paranoia rules and truth is at a premium." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] well-imagined tale of terrorist-obsessed America in the very near future....Raban's characters, not the futurist setting, are the real focus of this engrossing novel." Booklist
"Post 9/11, everyone watches and is being watched...In Raban's black and brilliant portrait of his adopted city, all kinds of sinister forces filter and manipulate the truth. A wonderfully ironic, disturbing take on the un-privacy of modern life." Kate Saunders, The Times (London)
"Raban is deadly serious in his portrayal of a country running scared, but he also has a taste for sly social comedy: His ear for idiom is well-nigh faultless, be it the ironic locutions of Seattle school kids or the braying tones of a haughty Englishwoman, and his character-sketching is precise and assured." Anthony Quinn, The Daily Telegraph (UK)
"The novel's air of mystery makes this an intensely involving read. You can sense the increasingly tangled relationships racing headlong toward a crash." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Surveillance is full of the kinds of long, drawn out dialogues about democracy and civil liberties that have graced many a classroom, even quite a few dinner parties, but sound absolutely ridiculous when written down." San Antonio Express-News
"Raban has already proven himself as a great writer in his previous books. And some of his characters in this latest effort are interesting. But his problem is that they all do the same thing. It's a one-dimensional setting playing host to one-dimensional characters. The result is a poorly developed novel that feels like a political lecture." Anya Yurchyshyn, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
In a post-9/11 America that has become obsessed with security and intelligence gathering, Lucy Bengstrom struggles to support herself and her young daughter, Alida, on a meager income as a freelance journalist, until she is assigned to profile August Vanags, a retired professor turned best-selling author. 40,000 first printing.
In the not-too-distant future, national identity cards are mandatory, and America has become thoroughly obsessed with intelligence-gathering. With precision and compassion, Raban captures a rich variety of lives caught up in the fault lines that reach throughout society.
About the Author
The author, most recently, of Waxwings and Passage to Juneau, Jonathan Raban was born in England and since 1990 has lived in Seattle. His honors include the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Heinemann Award of the Royal Society of Literature, the PEN/West Creative Nonfiction Award, the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association's Award, and the Governor's Award of the State of Washington.