Ernest Alvarez is from the Bronx (New York). He came to the United
States as a young boy, from Puerto Rico. He remembers Peurto Rico
fondly as a beautiful countryside, dotted with peaceful Catholic
Churches and comfortable farmhouses.
When he was
17, he joined the Army and became a member of the 101st Airborne
Division. His native intelligence and hard work eventually took
him from being in the infantry to being a helicopter mechanic,
and finally, to being a pilot.
Sent to Iraq
immediately after the initial invasion, his job required flying
over a large territory. On a flight near the small village of
Sinjar in northern Iraq, he saw that a stray bomb had landed at
a farm just outside of town. Landing at the scene of devastation
he found the sole survivor, a two year-old child. Against standing
orders, he flew the wounded child to a hospital staffed by Médicins
Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), where he met
the woman of his dreams, a French Doctor named Yvette Prigent.
to his base near Baghdad, Alvarez was placed under house arrest
for disobeying orders and eventually busted down to Sergeant.
In Part One
of the novel, he is introduced to Yussef by Dr. Prigent, after
Yussef has accomplished a dangerous mission on behalf of the hospital.
Alvarez immediately decides to help Yussef find his family.
is that he is on restricted duty and was only allowed to fly his
Blackhawk into the desert as a "routine maintenance flight".
Thinking that he can take Yussef on a quick trip north without
it causing a problem, his plan goes awry when the helicopter is
shot down and he is wounded and both he and Yussef are captured
one of the "insurgents" (a former UC, Santa Cruz student),
Alvarez and Yussef escape. They are taken by pick-up truck towards
the American camp at Buhayrat ath Tharthar (a lake in central
Iraq). Along the way, they encounter a ghostly figure in the mountains
who is referred to as the "Ancient One". The Ancient
One tends to the wounded Alvarez, who has been halucinating from
pain and infection during the truck ride.
arrival at the Buhayrat ath Tharthar camp, Alvarez is placed under
"house arrest" once more. Part One ends with him musing
that he will be busted down to "Private" Alvarez.
But as Part
Two opens, it is a newly commissioned Chief Warrant Officer Alvarez
who lands near Yussef's home in rural Iraq to ask Yussef's sister,
Nadia, for help with a very specific mission.
that the good deed that Alvarez did by reuniting Yussef's family
at Buhayrat ath Tharthar turned into a "PR" (publicity)
opportunity for the American Army and instead of court martialling
the Sergeant, he was promoted.
In Part Two,
Chief Alvarez works with Nadia and a British hostage-rescue team
in Samarra. Alvarez is called on to do much more than is usual
for his job as a pilot and must rely on his early infantry training
to help with the rescue mission.
In the end,
he mentions to Yussef that he plans to return to the US one day
and hopes to live in Los Angeles. He plants the seed that Yussef
might consider being his guest in the US one day - and even that
Yussef might think about going to UCLA. Seeds of a dream have
Arabian Oryx appears in dreams and hallucinations that Alvarez
suffers while wounded and being transported back to an American
base in the back of a pick-up truck. The Oryx seems to appear
along with a Catholic priest that Alvarez remembers from his childhood
in Puerto Rico.