The Fountain at the Center of the World

by Robert Newman, appearing at Pacific Switchboard, 4637 N. Albina, 274-1449 for tickets, 7:30 pm, $5

R obert Newman's third novel, The Fountain at the Center of the World is a sprawling global drama that brings a human face and an emotional truth to the polemics of globalism. Built on the backs of three characters, it spans three continents and wildly divergent settings--NAFTA-wracked Mexican villages, corporate boardrooms, and a tropical disease hospital--to culminate in the now-legendary World Trade Organization's 1999 Seattle meeting.

Newman begins his story's web by plunging into the kitchen and mind of Evan Hatch, a British workaholic who runs inference for a firm specializing in complex government trade issues. A leukemia diagnosis necessitates his search for his long-lost brother, Chano, to organize a bone marrow transplant. In northern Mexico, Chano is on the run from police and soldiers for bombing the pipes of a toxic waste plant poised to poison everyone in a hundred-mile radius. And in Costa Rica, Chano's 14-year-old son, Daniel (put up for adoption 13 years before, when his father was jailed and his mother murdered), has just decided to find his father, who doesn't know he's alive.

Newman's omniscient narrator shares the smallest detail with lean precision. This attention to detail guards against what could be soap opera drama, but can also be overwhelming, as there are many characters and many plot points, some of which are tiresomely complex. The book's main strength and weakness, is finally the same thing: Newman's vast political knowledge and the desire to share it can, at times, overwhelm his characters, and detract from their humanity.

Newman recently completed a year long, sold-out tour of the "historico-political stand-up show," From Caliban to Taliban--500 years of Humanitarian Intervention. He performed alongside Michael Moore in London's largest anti-war benefit gig, and has also been politically active with Indymedia, Reclaim the Streets, the Liverpool Dockers, Earth First and People's Global Action. Robert Newman clearly has a lot to say, and in this novel has attempted, and mostly succeeded, in doing what the best fiction does--merging the personal and the political to inspire change. ERIN ERGENBRIGHT