Thursday, July 22, 2010

A new adoptee

By the time we got to “East Wind”, I was ready to adopt a new uncle.  Beginning with a love of scuba diving, we managed to cover hobbies, teaching, the state of education in our country, places lived, business ventures, and family history.  Jack Winnick is a true renaissance man. He spun his history of working for NASA, teaching during episodes we read about in textbooks, and the details of his latest play that he’s starring in, while I worked hard to keep my jaw from dropping. I listened to him discuss being a visiting professor at Berkeley and his years teaching chemical engineering at Georgia Tech, and his vast knowledge made my head spin and left me scribbling notes to research when I got home.  He’s one of those people you feel lucky to get to spend time with, fascinating, funny, quick to laugh, and kind in spirit.  We perched outside of a Culver City Starbucks and sipped our drinks while we chatted away the afternoon. 

When we finally found our way to his first novel, East Wind, I saw his true passion spark.  In this international thriller, he weaves his engineering expertise with a love of Israel, and the result is a page-turner that couldn’t be timelier.  As I read the book that evening, I kept in mind pieces of our conversation – the back-room handshakes and long-forgotten military events that Jack taught me about in a loud whisper.  I knew that, while a book of fiction, almost all of the historic details and references were absolutely true.  Which is why I alternated between rapt reading and paralyzing terror.  Set in 2013 following a deadly nuclear terrorist explosion in Los Angeles, the terms are set: Stop all aid and support to Israel or else multiple attacks will be launched upon other American cities.  In a race to save lives and defend two homelands, an FBI agent partners with an Israeli Mossad field agent to crack the code before the 5-day time limit is up.  

From the first page, I saw hints of Jack within the words, fragments of his experiences, and facts that he had shared tucked in the dialogue.  “East Wind” is Jack Winnick’s voice, his message to the world about the current state of affairs.  “East Wind” thrills the reader with intrigue and suspense, but leaves a growing knot of fear in a world where the plot hits a little too close to home.  It’s hard to dismiss panic as fiction when it would be small hop to reality.  With Israel rooted on the front page and prominent Americans speaking out against U.S. support of Israel, “East Wind” couldn’t come at a better time.  

I will admit certain references put my knowledge to shame, exposing my lack of political and historical expertise.  Chock full of little know truths and mentions of hushed military ploys, either Jack possesses an incredible imagination, or there are other pieces of his history that he chose to omit. Either way, it is a book entertains purely as fiction while simultaneously serving as a warning: Wake up and take notice.  Take action before this work of fiction becomes our very real shared trauma.

We tossed our cups in the trash and waved good-bye, promising to meet again for Thai food in the very near future.  As I drove him, I couldn’t help but marvel at this gem of a man I had just met. A professor, engineer, actor, and author, he struck me as a man who revels in truth, who strives for goodness, and lives with passion. Sharing his laughter and soft handshake, I feel fortunate to have gotten to spend an afternoon simply sitting in the sunshine and swapping pieces of our lives. 

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