Seventh Flag

Written by Sid Balman Jr.
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Four generations of two families from a small Texas town interact across time, beginning in 1948 and continuing to the 2000s, as well as across place, moving from desert farmland to war zones in the Middle East. One of the families descends from Irish immigrants who find wealth in Texas not from oil but from water. The other descends from Syrian Muslims who accompanied camels brought to the U.S. in the 1880s in the hope that dromedaries would be ideal conveyances for the cavalry in arid New Mexico Territory.

Jack Laws and Ali Zarkan, patriarchs of the clans, bond after a knife fight in a Juarez tavern. Zarkhan’s son rescues Laws’ daughter after she is brutally raped. The Laws’ grandsons become blood brothers; the grandsons are embroiled in post-9/11 ramifications and counter-terrorism.

Seventh Flag is both sweeping and narrow in scope. It broadly brushes 50 years of the Muslim experience in the U.S. and views history through the eyes of men and women who grow up in rural communities, play high school and college football, and join the military.

Author Sid Balman was nominated for a Pulitzer for his coverage of wars in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere, and it shows. The writing is crisp and straightforward and carries authenticity. But instead of following an integrated chronological plot, the book presents vignettes that skip across periods of years, yielding quick views of characters and situations that often stand alone. The result is a series of snapshots, and much like flipping the pages of a photo album, the reader observes the circumstances but yearns for deeper emotion and greater understanding.