Russian novelist Elena Chudinova (transliterated Tchoudinova in French) is one of several writers in recent years to make a European bestseller list by protesting the Continents growing Islamization. After the September 11 attacks, Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci began the trend with her short book The Rage and the Pride. Last year, Thilo Sarrazin joined the bestseller ranks with Deutschland schafft sich ab: wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen (Germany Is Dismantling Itself: How We Put Our Country at Risk)a literary endeavor that cost him his job on the board of Germanys Central Bank. Chudinovas book, published in Russia in 2005, where it became a top-selling title, was translated into French as La Mosquée Notre-Dame de Paris année 2048, with virtually no attention from the mainstream media. The French publisher is actively seeking to sell the English translation rights. While that process runs its course, readers may be interested to know what her book is about.
Unlike the Fallaci and Sarrazin books, Chudinovas is a futuristic, dystopian novel, or as the French edition puts it, a novel with a mission. It takes place in 2048, when France has been under Islamist rule for over a decade. Pariss Notre Dame Cathedral is now the Al-Franconi mosque; those French families that have refused to convert to Islam are squeezed into ghettoes and, as the plot unfolds, about to be given the choice of conversion or slaughter. There are two underground groups: a secular resistance and a few remaining Christians, followers of the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who in the previous century had rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The book starts with a literal bang, as a young resistance fighter, just after watching a Christian get stoned to death, sets off a car bomb that kills a senior Muslim official. It culminates in an insurrection in which the two underground groups capture and reconsecrate Notre Dame in order to celebrate a mass there. As the novel ends, the cathedral is about to be blown up so that it can never again be desecrated by Muslims.
The novels larger geopolitical setting is bleak: Islamists have taken over all of Western Europe. Poland, the only remaining Catholic country, has made an alliance with orthodox Russia to oppose the Muslim threat. America is a non-player, completely absorbed by internal conflict between Christians in the South and an alliance of Muslims, Jews, and secularists in the North.
Chudinovas principal characters include a female Russian assassin, kidnapped and tortured by Chechens as a girl, then widowed by Islamist killers. Another is a Russian spy, a Serb born in Kosovo, who has lived undercover as a nuclear scientist in Paris for years. A third is a young French priest belonging to the still-surviving Lefebvre movement. Meanwhile, a mysterious young girl with stigmata urges them all on in their quest to liberate Notre Dame.
By writing the book, Chudinova hoped to appeal to Western Europeans as well as to Russians. She apparently modeled the Russian assassin on Fallaci (who died in 2006), while the year 2048 is a reference to George Orwells 1984. Orwell wrote in the mid-twentieth century to warn about the Communist threat. Chudinova sees Islamism as the threat of our century and, in a video promoting the book, warns that in fact the danger could come much sooner than 2048.
The book is more a polemic than a novel, however. While the action is constant, the plot is weak, and the characters are cartoon cut-outs. Her vision isnt just controversial; its offensive, with her loathing for Islam joined by a disgust for postVatican II Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. (Her Serb protagonist admires Poland as the only country that after World War II was unafraid to expel its remaining Jews. Mysteriously, however, her Russian heroine has a Jewish maiden name.) Indeed, this is not Chudinovas first controversial novel; a previous work won the prize for worst book at the Moscow Book Fair. Judges cited its insensitivity to other confessions and nationalities.
Nevertheless, her novel is worth reading, if only for exposure to views too often ignored in the West. Chudinova depicts moderate Muslims chafing at and suffering under the strict rule imposed by radical Muslims in the France of 2048. She traces the eruption of radical Islam into Europe to the late-twentieth-century wars in the Balkans. Most Americans think of the Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians as the good guys and the Serbs as the villains in those conflicts, but Chudinova depicts them as fronts in the third Muslim advance on Europe and highlights Muslim atrocities. (The first Muslim advance ended at Tours in 732; the second at Vienna in 1683.) Her references to Chechnya are in a similar vein, highlighting the Islamist presence, particularly in the second Chechen war of the late 1990s. That presence was obscured for many by horrific Russian human rights violations.
Today, when illegal Muslim prayer services block entire Paris streets, when Islamist demonstrators in central Paris and London brag that an Islamic flag will soon fly over the seat of government, and when the archbishop of Canterbury declares some aspects of sharia unavoidable in Britain, Chudinovas nightmare is not completely far-fetched. Nor is her gruesome depiction of infidel ghettoes in Paris exaggerated, given the fate of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, or the Palestinian territories today. Whatever the inadequacies of her literary efforts, however ugly some of her opinions are, Chudinova, like Fallaci and Sarrazin, has issued a warning that cant easily be dismissed.
Leslie S. Lebl, a former career foreign service officer with the Department of State, is Principal of Lebl Associates and Fellow of the American Center for Democracy. She is the author of the monograph Advancing U.S. Interests with the European Union. The translations in this review are hers.