A patchy tale across four generations that addresses the growing racism in America.
Pulitzer-nominated national security correspondent Sid Balman Jnr is a fourth generation Texan who sets his novel in the place he knows and loves so well. It’s an important glimpse into the growing racism and ignorance in America which, in itself, is a reflection of the devolving path being taken by most Western countries since 9/11.
The novel is more like a collection of short stories with a familial thread as it jumps ahead in time quite often, breaking the cardinal rule of “show, don’t tell”. It spans multiple-generations of two Texan families – one Christian, one Muslim – but the first three of these generations are covered in less than a hundred pages. We barely get to know any of the characters because of the regular leap-frogging ahead in time. This is compounded by a lack of emotional depth in the storytelling and Balman’s omniscient point of view which jumps through the thoughts of everyone present far too frequently for the reader to be able to make any significant connection with anyone.
Much more successful is the second part of the novel which focusses on the current generation of both families, post 9/11. The narrower focus allows the reader to spend more time with fewer characters. In this second half, the strong bond between the families remains despite growing threats of terrorism, the rise of racism, and the spread of misinformation over the internet. Balman still jumps about and avoids any emotional depth, which makes it difficult to care about the characters – even when one suicides – but he tells a tale worth telling, touching on the aforementioned issues along with the showing how disillusioned youth can become radicalised. By questioning what it means to be American, he poses the very same question that every country should be asking of its own population.
Seventh Flag is an interesting story that would be better served by a much longer book that spends more time delving into the emotional connections of the characters, and allowing scenes to evolve and play out instead of simply leaping forward in time to tell us what happened over just a few sentences.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Distributed by: Amazon Australia
Released: October 2019
RRP: $23.69 paperback, $12.80 eBook