Whirlwind (novel)


1987 paperback edition
Author James Clavell
Country United Kingdom, United States
Language English
Series Asian Saga
Genre Historical novel
Publisher William Morrow
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 1,147 pp (hardback edition)
ISBN 0-7715-9589-1 (hardback edition)
OCLC 16052427
Preceded by Noble House
Followed by last book of series

Whirlwind is a novel by James Clavell, first published in 1986. It forms part of The Asian Saga and is chronologically the last book in the series.

Set in Iran in early 1979, it follows the fortunes of a group of Struans helicopter pilots, Iranian officials and oil men and their families in the turmoil surrounding the fall of the Iranian monarchy and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Like many of Clavell's novels, it is very long and is composed of many interweaving plot strands involving a large cast of characters, as well as a detailed portrayal of Iranian culture.

The novel is closely inspired by the true struggle of Bristow Helicopters to escape the revolutionary forces and get their employees and equipment out of the unstable, deteriorating situation in the region. Alan Bristow, chairman of Bristow Helicopter commissioned a journalist, Jackie Griffin, who was married to one of his employees to write a report on the events in Iran. Bristow then gave his friend, James Clavell the resulting script to form the basis of the novel. Much of the story mirrors these and other contemporary events. In February 1979, U.S. Ambassador Adolph "Spike" Dubs was murdered in Kabul after Afghan security forces burst in on his kidnappers, the actual event both mentioned and fictionalized into the plot of Whirlwind. Other companies operating in Iran faced similar dilemmas. For example, Ross Perot's Electronic Data Systems similarly became very involved in the rescue of two executives from prison in Tehran, events dramatised in Ken Follett's novel On Wings of Eagles.


When tai-pan Ian Dunross learned in Noble House that the North Sea may soon be wide open for oil exploration, he sent Andrew Gavallan to Scotland to quietly buy up real estate in Aberdeen so they would be positioned to take advantage of this trend. The North Sea oil rigs, once built, are serviced by helicopter, which leads to Gavallan being involved in the helicopter and oil services industries. These become main business ventures of Struan's in Iran during the 1970s, as depicted in Whirlwind.

Plot summary

Gavallan, based in Scotland, runs S-G Helicopter company operating in Iran during the Shah's reign. When Khomeini comes to power, Gavallan must get his pilots and their families, and his valuable helicopters, and the spare parts for the helicopters (of equal or greater value than the aircraft) out of the riot-torn country. Complicating matters is his power struggle with his company's secret owner, the Noble House of Hong Kong. The pilots' escape efforts form the basic story and the action sweeps across many lives: lovers, spies, fanatics, revolutionaries, friends and betrayers. British, Finnish, American, and Iranian are all caught up in a deadly religious and political upheaval, portraying the chilling and bewildering encounters when Westernized lifestyle clashes with harsh ancient traditions.


Aircraft used by S-G Helicopters throughout the story include Bell 212, Bell 206, Aérospatiale Alouette III helicopters and British Aerospace BAe 125 business jet.


The settings for the story are the western and southwestern parts of Iran, as well as neighboring Persian Gulf states, Turkey to Lake Van, and the environs of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Actual locations within Iran include Tehran (including Qasr Prison, Evin Prison, Galeg Morghi, and Doshan Tappeh Air Base), Tabriz, Qazvin, Mount Sabalan, the Zagros Mountains, Lengeh, Bandar Delam, Siri, the Dez Dam and Kharg island.

Fictional locations include the city of Kowiss, Yazdek village and the safe haven emirate of Al-Shargaz, meaning protector.

Main characters

۞ indicates leader of respective base

Minor characters

Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind

A much shorter version of the story, focussing on a single pair of characters, was published in 1994 as Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind. The back cover of the first edition bore a message from the author humorously dedicating the book to anyone who had ever complained that his books were too heavy.

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