Tro­jan Horse

By – January 22, 2021

S. Lee Manning’s Tro­jan Horse explores polit­i­cal intrigue and cor­rup­tion at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment. Ques­tions of decep­tion, loy­al­ty, and con­science are what makes this thriller so absorb­ing — ques­tions with which, on a small­er scale, we all must grapple.

Mar­garet Brad­ford is at the helm of the ECA, a top-secret Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment agency. On her team are Jonathan Egan, the son of a for­mer sen­a­tor, who grew up mix­ing with the Wash­ing­ton elite; and Kolya Petrov, a Russ­ian Jew­ish émi­gré. The team begins to sus­pect that a high gov­ern­ment offi­cial must be a mole: three agents have already been killed by the noto­ri­ous Mihai Cuza, a Roman­ian nation­al who has the ear of the next leader of Romania.

Brad­ford and the ECA are try­ing to find infor­ma­tion to take down Mihai Cuza. Their lat­est plan is to cre­ate a Tro­jan horse, a com­put­er mal­ware that mis­leads the user of its true intent. But decep­tion is not reserved for the ene­my: with­out his knowl­edge, Kolya is also des­ig­nat­ed to take a fall.

On the sur­face, Tro­jan Horse is an action sto­ry about secret agents fight­ing to main­tain pow­er and con­trol. As the nov­el pro­gress­es, how­ev­er, ques­tions of fair­ness and the val­ue of human life rise to the sur­face. How far can you take a risk with a person’s life? When should you step in and do some­thing about an issue you think is wrong? One of Mihai Cuza’s men becomes uncom­fort­able with the vio­lence in which he is caught up. He tries to jus­ti­fy his behav­ior: I knew what they’d do to him, but since I didn’t have to take part, I didn’t think about it.” Ulti­mate­ly, Man­ning shows, it is not so easy to fool yourself.”

Tro­jan Horse is a high­ly enter­tain­ing read (although read­ers should be pre­pared for some descrip­tive vio­lence). It con­tains plen­ty of sus­pense and fast-paced action, but also ideas that will leave the read­er think­ing long after the nov­el is put back on the shelf.

Mer­le Eis­man Car­rus resides in New Hamp­shire. She received her Mas­ters of Jew­ish Stud­ies from Hebrew Col­lege and is a grad­u­ate of Emer­son Col­lege. Mer­le is the Nation­al Pres­i­dent of the Bran­deis Nation­al Com­mit­tee. She leads books dis­cus­sion groups and author inter­views. She writes book reviews for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions. She blogs her book reviews at biteofthebookworm@​blogspot.​com

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of S. Lee Manning

  1. What impres­sion do you get of Kolya’s ear­ly child­hood? Of his time in the Russ­ian boy’s school?

  2. How did both expe­ri­ences form his char­ac­ter and direct his path in life?

  3. There are three women who play large roles in Tro­jan Horse. What are each of their strengths and weak­ness­es? How do you think oper­at­ing in a large­ly male field (espi­onage) has affect­ed them?

  4. What does the engage­ment scene between Alex and Kolya when tell you about these char­ac­ters? What does this scene add to the plot?

  5. There is overt and vio­lent anti-Semi­tism in Tro­jan Horse. Is there also a more sub­tle anti-Semi­tism? What evi­dence do you have to back it up one way or the other?

  6. Do Kolya and Alex change how they relate to their Jew­ish her­itage over the course of the book?

  7. What is the role of music in Tro­jan Horse, and what does it say about the use­ful­ness and the lim­i­ta­tions of art in deal­ing with life’s difficulties?

  8. What was your impres­sion of Roma­nia before you read Tro­jan Horse? Has it changed? How? Would you like to visit?

  9. Cuza thinks that he’s the hero of the book, not the vil­lain. Why? What makes a vil­lain or a hero?

  10. Towards the end of the book, Cuza and Alex have a dis­cus­sion on the pros and cons of tor­ture. Do you think either is per­sua­sive? Why or why not?

  11. Why do you think the author chose to depict explic­it vio­lence in some of the scenes?

  12. Tro­jan Horse rais­es ques­tions of betray­al and ulti­mate loy­al­ty. Who is loy­al to what and whom, and do you find it admirable or questionable?

  13. Char­ac­ters in Tro­jan Horse are con­tin­u­al­ly mak­ing choic­es in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. What are the choic­es made by Mar­garet, by Frick, by Eliz­a­beth, by the Pres­i­dent, by Man­ion, and by Kolya?

  14. What do their choic­es say about their char­ac­ters and their ethics?

  15. What alter­na­tives could each of them have chosen?