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The Prophet of Sorrow

2010 Book of the Year Award Finalist, Foreword Magazine, (Historical Fiction)

2010 International Book Award Finalist (Historical Fiction)

National "Best Books 2010" Book Award Finalist, (Historical Fiction)

The Prophet of Sorrow is available in Kindle and paperback.



SYNOPSIS: Set against the political backdrop of the Moscow Show Trials and the exile of Leon Trotsky in Mexico, a Spanish agent of Joseph Stalin’s notorious secret spy ring, the GPU, is sent to assassinate Trotsky.  After killing the exiled Bolshevik, Ramon Mercader has spent twenty years in a Mexican prison. The Prophet of Sorrow is a tale of suspense, courage, and love as recounted by the assassin. The main characters help to develop the plot throughout the story, with the inclusion of personal journal entries. The author instills geopolitical depth of the times and psychological gravity into their voices — not the least of which are — anger, fear, passion, envy, discontent, and sorrow.

The main characters are involved in the tumultuous civil war in Spain, recruited as Soviet spies, trained in Russia, and unleashed as part of Stalin’s private army of gangsters and murderers. Ramon Mercader and his mother are in a relationship rooted in a reign of terror led by the masterful old-time spy Leonid Eitingon. The famous artist David Alfaro Siqueiros masterminds an armed assault on the Trotsky compound in Mexico, but fails. It is up to Mercader to murder Trotsky through deceit and delivering the fatal blow with a mountain climbing axe, which was hidden under his coat.

Different characters that represent the middle of the twentieth century make cameo appearances in the novel. Diego Rivera and Freda Kahlo give Trotsky a house to live in. David Alfaro Siqueiros comes into contact with Ernest Hemmingway and Jackson Pollack. Charles Laughton, Ira Gershwin, and Tyrone Power commission works from Siqueiros. It is through art that a potential for connection and intercourse is revealed at the very core of our awareness. And through the murderer, Mercader, the author reveals what keeps us from being ourselves: our own nature broadening outward and furnishing evidence of our true tastes and convictions.



Twenty years ago I killed Leon Trotsky. I have spent the time since in the Lucumberri Prison in Mexico and now am the guest of Fidel Castro’s government, here in Havana. I have lived many lives and have been known to others as Ramón Mercader, Jacques Mornard, Harold Jacson, Vandendreschd, and even Gnome. There are others that do not pertain to this story, and I'm sure that I will rest under a headstone with a name unfamiliar to me as yet. 

     The truculent deal is this: we are permitted a mercurial mind only when we don’t know how to keep it in reserve; and we only learn how to bring it to terms when these gifts have departed. Along this line, we discover that we are not responsible for our own fate and destiny, but we are responsible for how we react to it. Our values are determined by the attitude we develop toward our destined and irrevocable suffering. Our unresolved sorrows flow along a hidden expanse. At one end have been the deaths that have caused the scarring and hardening, the peeling off of the masks of different legends, only to reveal a numb surface. The more I let go of my identities, the more I die to myself in uncircumscribed humility, and the less I have to defend.

     At the other end, I am a boy in Barcelona living with my mother, Eustacia María Caridad del Río Hernandez, after she separated from my father. Life for workers and peasants in Spain in the 1920s and 1930s was bad, and if you were a woman it was even worse. Mother’s wedding was pre-arranged and she had no independence.
She took me to France and I was raised there. Mother was smart and attractive. Her intelligence brought her, and consequently me, into contact with many intellectuals. Old expectations, assumptions and ways of behaving began to be questioned. Change begins with discussion and, through the messy process of debate and disagreement, the way in which we see the world can be radically altered.
     Back in Spain, the socialist UGT union federations were taking to the streets. They aimed to empower women and believed that it was crucial to involve them directly in the struggle for liberation. Revolution was starting in Spain as a reaction to the military coup. Spanish women did not see themselves as enfranchised and most of them had in fact never even heard of it, yet their response was spontaneous and courageous.
     My mother had become a confirmed socialist and an activist, but her strong personality drew her towards Stalinism for one reason and one reason only: Leonid Eitingon.
     She was faced with the sense of necessity to choose between fascism and anti-fascism back in Spain — the same force that was propelling so many other Spaniards into the arms of the Communist Party.
     Eitingon was introduced to mother, who was called Caridad by her friends, as the head of business operations for the Soviet Fur Trust and was extremely handsome, with grey-green eyes and a full head of black hair. He seduced her with his polished weapons of humor and impertinence. But in fact, he was the NKVD’s (Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del) outstanding expert in operations against Russian anti-Communist exiles, as well as Trotskyites.
     Among Eitingon’s special tasks was responsibility for sabotage, kidnapping, and assassination of the Soviet’s enemies beyond the country’s borders — helping Comrade Stalin protect and provide dignity for all workers and eliminate the rapacity and despotism of capitalist profit.
     We packed our bags and headed from France back to Barcelona, where Eitingon assumed the role of a military attaché (General Katov) in the Soviet Consulate. Here he organized the persecution against the POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification), who were closely associated with Trotsky.
     It was his role in the GPU (Communist Secret police or Cheka) that would change my life. This was Stalin’s secret army. My mother and I were eventually trained as part of this group; training that set my destiny.



© 2009 by Mark Van Aken Williams. All rights reserved. The material on this website is protected by International and US Copyright.



"Set against the Spanish Civil War, Mercado and his mother get caught up in the war itself, then get recruited as members of Stalin's notorious spy ring, the GPU (who, in time, will be come the infamous KGB), and are sent to assassinate the exiled Trotsky. Along the way, other characters, the famous and the infamous, join in to add rich flavor and set the story within the time and place of a horrendous time. 

"Williams' characters are multi-faceted, coming across as idealistic, jaded, criminalistic. Mercado seems to be caught like the proverbial deer in the headlights as a young man trying to please his mother. He's an easy mark for men already well schooled in the art of mind control. His mother has her reasons for becoming involved but Mercado is an unlikely assassin, only wanting to please her.

"There is a sense of true tragedy within the spy game, and reading along is both painful and intriguing. Williams' plot is rich, allowing us to know these people and their motivations. While we may not agree with the ideals, we can certainly understand them. Set within the confines of fiction, the historical perspective reminds us that real people were involved--people that aren't as easily defined as the history books seem to want us to believe.

"A page turner that makes you think, reminds us who these people really were, and gives them a voice to tell their side of a dark event in history. Definitely a must read for anyone who enjoys historical or spy thrillers."

Lexington Literature Examiner rates this: 4 stars



Review by J. W. Coffey