Rating: 4 stars
Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Smith Publicity/TouchPoint Press via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
Review: Many times this summer, I’ve delayed writing a review after finishing a book simply because it’s so hard to find an hour or two of quiet to dedicate to it (I love my kids, but quiet they are not). Not the case here. This time I delayed writing the review because I’m still rolling the book around in my head, trying to figure out how to approach it. It’s a strange book. Both difficult and easy to summarize. Easy if you look at the plot alone – two people with very different experiences of the world, enter a most unexpected and unusual relationship, neither quite sure that they can make it last. But difficult because that isn’t really what the book is about, that easy summary is vastly oversimplifying. So, I’m not going to do my usual summary, and just jump right into my feelings about it.
If I’m being really honest with myself, I appreciated this book very much, but I didn’t really like it. What I didn’t like about it: the mood was too somber, the relationship wasn’t believable to me primarily because there was no real depth to it, and I struggled with both characters, finding myself not especially fond of either of them.
However, despite not liking it, I’m glad I read it, and I suspect I’d get more out of it if I gave it some time and reread it later on. Which I plan to do. Because the themes explored in the book are worth deeper examination. There are the age old themes of star-crossed lovers, cultural differences, age differences, social hierarchy, self-sacrifice for the greater good, gender roles, war, integration, and the list goes on. But for me, all I can really think about is how little I know about the Middle East, its history, its culture, and how sad that is considering it has dominated the news for as long as I can remember.
Through Qasim, I got a small taste of what it might be like to grow up in a homeland that has always been at war, where death and pain and suffering are to be expected, and arriving at peace is so complex that it seems impossible. What must that kind of existence really be like? And how would it feel to come to a country like the United States, a country that hasn’t faced a major war on its mainland in over a hundred years (certainly nothing equivalent to what is experienced in parts of the Middle East today), a country that lives in relative peace? And what would it be like to try and develop a relationship with an American who had no grasp on your region’s history, couldn’t begin to wrap their mind around your experiences, whose basic questions and limited interest in your history seemed almost childish?
Sadly, I felt Dianna’s character was a representation of the average American, at least in terms of her lack of knowledge of the Middle East’s history. Perhaps things have changed over the years, but I feel comfortable saying that when I was in school, we did not spend a lot of time focused on the history of the Middle East. Most of the “world” history we learned was more Europe-centric, and I don’t even recall that because a) it’s been a long-time since I was 17 and b) I had no appreciation for history back then. As this book was set in the 80’s (maybe the early 90’s as well?), Dianna, who was only a few years out of college, probably experienced an education similar to my own, and that’s why she felt like a reflection of myself.
However, our access to information has changed so much since then, that there is virtually no excuse for having such a lack of understanding of the on-going conflicts in the Middle East, especially given the undercurrent of fear and negative stereotypes perpetuated about people from these war-torn areas. Name a day where there hasn’t been news coverage of some conflict or tragedy occurring in a Middle Eastern nation? Yet, individually, most of us likely know very little about their history, while making judgments about them nonetheless, judgments that strengthen opposition and undermine support that might save innocent lives. Seeing myself in Dianna, even if only parts, was at minimum uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and pretty darn eye-opening.
And that is why this is probably the longest review I’ve ever written, and the first that has taken me days. With all of the places this book took me and all the feelings I had to sort through, there wasn’t a way to effectively communicate how I felt about the book in a few paragraphs.
No, it wouldn’t be fair to say I enjoyed it, but I grew from it, in a really meaningful way, and I believe it will be one of those books that will leave a permanent mark.