REVIEWS EXCERPT
 

PANAMA captures the sweep of this country’s tumultuous history.  Moving between past and present — from pivotal events in Panama’s past to the American withdrawal in 1999 — this is the action-filled saga of a man and a nation searching for their identities.

Hank Duque is a third-generation Canal Zonian, a hybrid of American and Panamanian ancestry, who returns to Panama in 1989 after a 25-year exile.  Immediately upon his arrival at the airport, a La Guardia intelligence officer, Major Carlos Mejias, recognizes him and knows of his role in the bloody 1964 student riot.  Hank wonders how the major was able to identify him so quickly.

Hank has an assignment to write the Panama section of a Central American travel guide.  He plans to be in the country no more than a week.  However, he meets Andrea Arias, a self-reliant Panameña, and becomes caught up the prevailing political upheaval, as Manuel Noriega, a former CIA operative and now military dictator, defies both the United States government and the Panamanian people.  Hank’s odyssey takes him throughout Panama, from the teeming streets of Panama City to the impenetrable jungle of the interior, from the landscaped boulevards of the Canal Zone to a squalid prison known as La Preventiva

“Sal si puedes,” Hank’s Panamanian grandfather had implored.  “Get out if you can.”

Now, 25 years later, Hank has returned.

 

PURCHASE: $15
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Paperback
326 Pages
ISBN-10: 1419676210

EAN-13:  978-1419676215
 

REVIEWS:

First Place, Manuscriptors Guild novel contest

First Place, Bay Area Writers League novel contest

Faulkner Fiction Award, Woodlands Writers Guild contest

 The book is an easy and entertaining read, and is an exceptional book for anyone who has ever set foot in Panama.  The narrative takes the reader from one easily recognizable landmark to another. The political, sociologic, demographic, geographic, and historical settings are all accurate throughout the book, a testament to the writer's research and attention to detail.  I arrived in Panama in July of 1987 and lived through the events leading up to Operation Just Cause.  I never considered it an "invasion" because I was already here.  Carlos Miller's book "Panama" does justice to the events of 1987-1989.  It is an exceptionally well written book. Miller does for Panama what James A. Michener did for Chesapeake, Alaska, and Hawaii.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, but it is an absolute must read for anyone who lives here now, has lived here at some time in the past, or who has spent any time in Panama at all.  "Panama" is a great book.

  • Amazon book buyer

"PANAMA" is an important historical novel interwoven with a highly entertaining adventure story. Historical facts about a little known event in U. S. History are accurately presented and in many cases are real eye openers.  Besides Miller's excellent handling of history, his portrayal of intimate moments between lovers is much needed in today's literature.  For example, we know that great loves start with that first seduction and most novelists handle the subject with a certain coarseness.  Carlos Ledson Miller's seduction scene of Gladys by Edgardo is both sensitive and beautiful in a way that brought tears to my eyes - Bravo!

  • Amazon book buyer

Thank you so much for writing this tremendous novel.  I hope everybody who ever lived in the Canal Zone learns about it and reads it.  It is more than an historical novel; it is a lesson in diversity, love, human cruelty and human kindness that we as individuals living in Panama and the Zone participated in and still experience today.  I was at every place he talked about during my youth ... lived on the Prado, was a lifeguard at Ft. Amador, climbed the scary stairs inside the Fortified Island, and my brother was one of those Flag Raisers in 1964 ... I still sing "Panameno, Panameno, Panameno, Vida Mio!!!" nearly every day ... We Zonians feel a real attachment to our companeros on the other side of "Fourth of July."

  • Amazon book buyer

Miller portrays with great sensitivity the modern history of Panama, a backdrop to the personal travails of a young man, suspended between U.S. and Panamanian cultures, trying to find his proper role. This story richly illustrates the political strifes and stresses endured by the Panamanian people. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly.

  • Amazon book buyer

Browsers be aware that this book is no travelogue or tour guide for Panama.  It is a tense account of an American who returns to the Canal Zone, where he lived to his teen years, as a free-lance writer and rediscovers his Panamanian roots while reporting the complex plots to overthrow the vicious dictator Manuel Noriega.  Readers of James Bond adventures and Michael Crichton novels will find themselves caught up in this gripping book.  Besides, they will discover a crucial piece of American life and history when thousands of technical and military personnel lived in "the Zone" and finally withdrew in the 1980s.  This is the first novel to bring to life the triumphs and tensions of that era. The events of the period are made completely real by this fictional account of one man who lived through it.

  • Amazon book buyer

I grew up in the Canal Zone and was present at Balboa High School when the flag incident happened at the beginning of the book.  From there to the end of the book, I had a hard time putting it down.  Weaving the family through the generations to the historical high points made it a great read.  I will keep it to read again and again.

  • Amazon book buyer

Carlos Miller does an excellent job of portraying the identity crisis of a character and a nation.  Both must come to grips with their dual identities.  Miller's use of the extended prologue of Hank's youth and chapters from Panamanian history sprinkled through out, do a great job of showing us how our perspectives and prejudices are formed--personally and nationally.  This is a book you can read over and over, gaining something new each time.

  • Amazon book buyer

I lived in the Canal Zone for over 25 years, and loved this book because it took me "home" to a place we Zonians cherish.  It also pointed up the discords in relations between the US and Panama, not always of our own making.  Miller shows how our governments use us as pawns, as John LeCarreº does.  "Panama" has action, adventure, romance, suspense, and a credible story set in an exotic place--exotic even to me after 20 years away.  I had always felt I'd missed all the 'action' during the Noriega years and the Invasion, but after reading this, I was thankful we weren't there.  I very seldom read books of this genre, but found this one a page-turner!

  • Amazon book buyer

This finely crafted novel brings the reader an insider's view of the long and often disruptive pairings of Americans and Panamanians, who struggled to co-exist on the walls of an engineering phenomenon:  the Panama Canal. Like his protagonist, Carlos Miller grew up in this bi-cultural milieu, giving him a finely tuned authenticity.  The immediacy of his writing immerses the reader into a tumultuous insurrection against the infamous Manuel Noriega. PANAMA is a great read.

  • Amazon book buyer

 

 

EXCERPT:

1. BIENVENIDOS

 

Hank had a window seat on Continental Airlines flight 770, from Houston to Panama City.  He was staring down at the cobalt blue Caribbean when an insistent voice interrupted him. 

"Señor . . . señor . . ."

Hank turned, and an attractive Latina flight attendant leaned across the two empty seats beside him and handed him an immigration form, printed in Spanish.  "Uh . . . gracias, señorita," he said, experimenting with the language he had all but forgotten over the past twenty-five years.

She smiled and continued down the aisle.

Hank searched through his crammed attaché case for a pen, then began filling out the form.  When he got to "¿Compañía?" he automatically entered "Exxon".  Then, annoyed with himself, he scribbled through it.

The dull roar from the jet engines dropped to a lower pitch, as the pilot began the descent into Panama City.  The flight attendant returned from the rear of the aircraft and caught Hank's eye as she passed.  She gave him a quick smile as she disappeared behind the first-class curtain.

Hank turned back to the form, hesitated, then entered "Freelance writer".  He guessed that's what he was now.  The seat belt light went on, and he quickly completed the questionnaire.  As he reopened his attaché case to replace the pen, he stared down at the raft of research material he had hastily assembled in Houston.  He felt a twinge of anxiety.  At age thirty-nine, Panama was a hell of a place to start over. 

Inside the congested Omar Torrijos terminal building, Hank stood in line behind an elderly Indian woman.  The hubbub of arriving passengers reverberated throughout the room, punctuated by the occasional roar of an airplane landing or taking off.  The line crept forward, until finally the woman stepped up to the immigration desk.

"Pasaporte," said the immigration officer.  His drab gray uniform looked as if it had been worn for several days; his shirt barely covered his protruding paunch.  The woman opened her hemp travel bag and began fumbling about.  The officer reached across the desk, pushed her aside, and gestured for Hank to step forward.

The woman located her passport and tried to give it to the officer.  He waved her away with a brusque gesture, then looked up at Hank.  "¡Pasaporte!" he said, snapping his fingers.

Hank scowled at the surly bureaucrat as he handed over his new American passport and the completed immigration form. 

The officer met Hank's gaze for a moment, then glanced at the documents and said curtly, "Abra su maleta." 

"I don't speak much Spanish," Hank said.

"¡Abra su maleta!" the officer demanded, this time pointing to Hank's attaché case. 

Hank opened the case.  The officer dumped the contents onto the desk, then picked up Hank's copy of Panama: A Country Study, published by the U.S. Department of the Army.  He examined the title page, then put the book to the side.  After indifferently leafing through Hank's handwritten notes and photocopies of encyclopedia entries, he stopped when he came across an eight-page pamphlet published by the U.S. Department of State, entitled "Panama: Background Notes".  He also put this aside, then said, "Cierre su maleta."

Hank remembered 'cierre' meant 'close'; he must be done here.  He reached for the book and pamphlet that had been set aside. 

"¡No!" the officer barked, then picked up the two publications and walked out from behind the desk.  "Venga," he ordered, gesturing that Hank should follow him.  The woman who had lost her place in line plaintively asked something in Spanish.  The officer ignored her.  Hank gathered up the rest of the books and hurried after him, wondering what the problem was.

They stopped at a grimy office door, and Hank grew uneasy.  The nameplate mounted next to it read: Fuerza de Defensa de Panamá, Mayor Carlos Mejías -- Panama Defense Force, Major Carlos Mejías.  Through a window, Hank saw the khaki-uniformed major sitting at a desk.

The immigration officer rapped on the door.

The major looked up and called out, "¡Entre!"

As Hank followed the immigration officer inside, the major stood up and walked out from behind the desk.  His uniform was neatly pressed; although middle-aged, he moved like a conditioned athlete. 

The immigration officer handed him Hank's passport and entry form.  "El dice que no habla español." 

The major thumbed through the blank pages of the passport, then said in a rasping voice, "He says, you don't speak Spanish?"

"Very little.  I used to speak some when I was a kid, but I've forgotten most of it."

"Your name is Enrique Duque, and you don't speak Spanish?"

Hank shook his head. 

"But Duque is a Panamanian name, no?"

"My grandfather Duque was Panamanian.  My other grandparents were American."

The major studied him for a moment.  "Have you been to Panamá before?"

Hank felt a pang of apprehension.  "I was born here . . . in the Canal Zone."

The major gazed at him for a moment, as if pondering a puzzle, then looked at the immigration form.  The officer pointed to where Hank had scratched out his original entry. 

"What did you write here?" the major asked.

"I made a mistake.  I worked for Exxon until a few weeks ago, but now I'm a freelance writer.  I'm down here to do a piece for a travel guide."

The immigration officer handed the major the two U.S. government publications.  A corner of the major's mouth twitched as he leafed through them.  Then he looked up and said, "Who do you work for, Sr. Duque?"

"I'm a freelance writer."

The major said something in Spanish to the immigration officer, then told Hank, "Give him your baggage ticket."  Hank complied, and the immigration officer hurried out of the office.

"Deme su cartera," the major said.

Hank shook his head that he didn't understand.

"Give me your wallet!" the major demanded impatiently. 

Hank handed it over, masking his rising concern.

The major checked the paper currency; the $280 more than met the requirement for entering the country.  He pulled out Hank's Texas driver's license, scrutinized it, and then examined each of Hank's credit cards.  Finally, he withdrew a yellowed laminated card from the back of the wallet.  He shook it under Hank's nose.  "And what is this?"

Hank frowned down at the Certificate of Service card he had carried for nearly twenty years. 

"It says here," the major pressed, "you are a United States Marine, no?"

"No, it says I was in the Marine Corps twenty years ago."

The immigration officer returned, carrying Hank's duffel bag.  Hank watched with annoyance as the major rooted through his neatly packed clothes.  Finding nothing of interest, the major straightened up.  "Give me your airline ticket."

Hank reluctantly handed over his round-trip ticket. 

The major studied it for a moment, then looked up.  "You will be here for just one week?"

Hank nodded.

"And where will you be staying?"

"Hotel Reynosa," Hank said.  The major and the immigration officer exchanged glances.  Hank sensed that for some reason his choice of hotels disturbed them.

"Who do you work for, Sr. Duque?" the major said.

"I told you.  I'm a writer."

The major stepped closer.  "Do you work for the CIA?"

"What?  This is crazy.  I'm an American, down here to write a travel guide."

The major gazed into Hank's eyes.  "What kind of shit you feeding me, gringo?"

Hank shook his head.  Whatever was going on here was getting out of hand.

The major gazed him for a moment.  Finally, as if having arrived at a decision, he returned Hank's wallet and the two publications.  However, he kept the passport and immigration form.  "You can go to the Reynosa," he said, "but do not leave the hotel until we contact you."

"Now wait a minute," Hank began.  The major cut him off with an impatient gesture for him to leave.

As Hank made his way across the noisy terminal building, he shook his head at the irony of the sign over the exit: Bienvenidos a Panamá -- Welcome to Panama.

Outside, a press of taxi drivers, friends, and families greeted arriving passengers.  Hank scanned the crowd; a representative from a local tour service was supposed to meet him.  He spotted "Mr. Duque" scribbled in pencil on a crude cardboard sign.  Holding it was an attractive Panamanian woman.  Hank walked over and said, "I'm Hank Duque."

The woman acknowledged him with an unsmiling nod.  "I am Andrea Arias from Aventura Tours."  Her voice was husky, her accent slight.  "I will be your guide while you are here."  She reached for his duffel bag.  Hank started to decline, but then let her take it. 

He followed her over to a battered black Pontiac sedan and they put his luggage into the car's dusty trunk.  The heat and humidity were intense, and Hank was perspiring freely as he came around and climbed into the worn front passenger seat.  Andrea strapped herself in.  There was no seat belt on Hank's side.  With a grind of gears, they jolted away from the curb.

Still unnerved at having his passport confiscated, Hank leaned back in the seat and tried to collect his thoughts.  The airport drive exited onto a busy thoroughfare. 

"Mr. Duque," Andrea said, "you wish to go to your hotel, no?"

"Yeah, the Reynosa."

She gave him a disapproving glance.

"Something wrong with the Reynosa?" Hank said.

She didn't respond to his question, but leaned on the horn to force a bicycle pushcart to the side of the road.  This touched off a cacophony of horns from the cars around them.

They crested a hill and came to an abrupt stop.  A long line of vehicles stretched out in front of them.  At the foot of the hill, a Panamanian soldier leisurely waved crossing traffic through a busy intersection.  Ramshackle dwellings and rundown shops lined both sides of the thoroughfare.  The roadside shanties seemed so familiar, as did the pungent odor of decay wafting through the open side windows.  Ragged peddlers weaved in and out of the stopped cars, hawking fruit and soft drinks.

Hank smiled, momentarily transported back to his youth.  Then he forced himself out of his brief reverie and repeated, "Is there something wrong with the Hotel Reynosa?"

Andrea responded with a noncommittal shrug.

"Back at the airport, the immigration people acted strange when I told them I was staying there . . . like you just did."     

"Are you in the military?"

"No, I'm down here to write a travel guide."

"Most of the Americans who stay at the Reynosa are in the military," she said guardedly, "or they . . . work for your government."

"Well, that doesn't apply to me," Hank said, wondering if by "work for your government" she meant the CIA.  "I lived down here when I was a kid.  I think my grandfather's home was near the Reynosa."  He didn't mention that the main reason he had selected the hotel was that it was relatively inexpensive, and he was nearly broke.    

The traffic finally began moving down the hill.  A brightly painted bus tried to ease onto the main thoroughfare from a side street.  Andrea blew her horn and forced the bus to yield.  The driver leaned out the side window and angrily shouted something in Spanish.  Andrea ignored him.

As they drove on, Hank studied her profile.  She was an attractive woman — slender, pronounced cheekbones, a tawny complexion.  Her brown hair was tinged with red and pulled into a short ponytail.  She wore a starched white blouse and pressed blue jeans.  Hank leaned back slightly, trying to see if she was wearing a wedding ring.  She sensed his gaze and flashed her dark eyes at him.  Without thinking, he asked, "Are you married?"

"Yes," she said curtly.  "Are you?" 

"No . . . divorced," he said, regretting having voiced his question.

They drove on in silence, until Andrea said, "Mr. Duque, when do you wish to begin your tour?"

"I'd planned to get started right away, but an army officer took my passport.  He told me not to leave my hotel until he returned it."    

"He took your passport?" 

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"I don't know.  I guess I'll just have to call your office when I get it back."

Andrea returned her attention to the traffic, and Hank returned his to the passing scene.  To his right, the terrain ascended sharply, up a string of steep hills, covered with large stucco homes.  To his left, it fell off abruptly, treetops hiding most of the residences.  And up ahead, silhouetted against the vivid blue sky, were numerous high-rise buildings.  "What street are we on?"

"Vía España."

Hank nodded, remembering how as a youth he had ridden his bicycle on this busy thoroughfare, going to and from the Canal Zone.  He realized they must be close to his grandfather's former neighborhood.  "Is Bella Vista near here?"

"We are entering the banking district.  Bella Vista is near, but closer to the ocean."

They started through what looked like a modern shopping center, several blocks long.  Hank had no childhood recollection of this area.  Large stores and banks lined the thoroughfare.  Uniformed guards, most carrying automatic weapons, loitered conspicuously in the doorways. 
Andrea forced her way into the center lane, then turned left down a side street.  She pulled up in front of a tall stucco building, and it took Hank a moment to realize they had arrived at his hotel.   

As they unloaded his luggage from the trunk, Andrea asked, "Will you call my office when you get your passport?"

"I'll call tomorrow morning, in any case.  How early will you be there?"

"Seven o'clock," she said, then climbed back into the car.  "Our tours usually begin at 8:00."

Hank nodded, and she pulled away.  Too bad she's married, he thought.