Review of Mark Jacobs (Paraguay 1978-80) Novel Forty Wolves

Border Crossing, an annual online literary and arts journal, has published a review of Mark Jacobs’ Forty Wolves in their Fall 2015 (vol. 5) issue:

Forty Wolves by Mark Jacobs

reviewed by Audrey Hutchison

Mark Jacobs’ novel, Forty Wolves (Talisman House, 2010), is a story of intrigue and international politics. Since his service abroad in the Peace Corps, Jacobs has written five books, two story collections and three novels, including the critically acclaimed A Handful of Kings (Simon and Schuster, 2004). Jacobs has had over 100 stories published in various magazines, such as The Atlantic and The Southern ReviewBorder Crossing has published two of his stories:  “Reading the Cup” (vol. 2) and “What She Wants, What She Gets” (in the current issue). Like “Reading the Cup” and many of Jacobs’ other stories, Forty Wolves has an international setting. The novel begins when Christofo Alessi, an American man, is told by his dying mother that his birth mother lives in Turkey. While the news is a surprise, Christofo is eager to go abroad and travels to Turkey to find Nur Beyazbulut.

Initially, Christofo plans to simply ask the woman if she is his birth mother and then “fly back home to his regular life.” However, once he arrives in Turkey, he begins to imagine “some kind of connection-to-the-blood with the place” and becomes involved in an entanglement of political turmoil that includes fires, death, and kidnapping. The plot is action-filled, yet Jacobs builds it carefully, introducing the townspeople of Forty Wolves one by one as Christofo meets each person in his search for his mother.  As he meets each new person, Christofo discovers that person’s relationship to those he has already met until all the characters are introduced and meshed. Jacobs’ descriptive choice of words paints a panoramic picture of Turkey, the mountainous landscape including the town of Forty Wolves, the peninsula, and the Aegean Sea. His descriptions of the landscape are particularly vivid: as he describes Christofo’s drive “west out of town” to meet a member of the Beyazbulut family, for example, we see the “signs of civilization” becoming less frequent until there was just the unhuman world spread out around them on all sides: stretches of stony beach with driftwood monsters cast up on shore. Stone hills with illegible faces. Sheep and goats. Bright air thick with gulls. And a sea so majestic, stretching to the horizon, you could easily imagine gods rising from the depths to terrorize land dwellers.

In addition to vivid descriptions of the landscape in Turkey, Jacobs also convincingly describes the culture and life of the town of Forty Wolves, bringing to life the blacksmith and his family, the lifestyle of the other residents, the church where the townspeople worship and gather for community meetings, and the real estate investor, Durson Kap, who causes havoc among the townspeople and threatens them in order to try to get them to move away from the peninsula to turn it into a resort.

As the story unfolds, Christofo uncovers many secrets and is pulled into a whirlwind of events and revelations that lead to an exciting conclusion. Overall, this novel is a page-turner and a compelling read. Mark Jacobs knows this part of the world well and portrays it in a way that helps American readers recognize in this new and exotic place the same greed that troubles their lives at home.

forty-wolves-140Forty Wolves
by Mark Jacobs (Paraguay 1978–80)
Talisman House
2010
255 pages
$19.95 (Paperback)

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jacobs-m-2015-headshot

A former U.S. Foreign Service officer, Mark Jacobs has published more than 100 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, Playboy, The Idaho Review, The Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. He has stories forthcoming in several magazines including Southern Humanities Review. His story “How Birds Communicate” won The Iowa Review fiction prize. His five books include A Cast of Spaniards [Talisman House, 1994], A Handful of Kings [Simon and Schuster, 2004], and Stone Cowboy [Soho Press, 1997], which won Peace Corps Writers’ 1998 Maria Thomas Award. His website can be found at: markjacobsauthor.com.

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