Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan, author, Susan Denaker, narrator

saintsWhen the story begins, a phone rings in the middle of the night and a lone sleeping woman, Nora Rafferty, is told that there has been an accident.

Then the story moves to the mid 1950’s. Nora Flynn and her sister Theresa Flynn are preparing to travel to America. Nora is several years older than Theresa and is going to be married to the man she has been betrothed to for years, Charlie Rafferty, when they arrive in Boston. Although she has had second thoughts, she believes she has no other real alternative. They were supposed to be married in Ireland in County Claire, uniting their properties and managing their farms. It felt more like a business arrangement to her than a marriage based on passionate love, but it suited them both. When Charlie’s dad decided to give the farm to his older son, Charlie was sent to New York to stay with relatives. He was to make his fortune there. When he had enough money saved, he sent for Nora who would not leave Ireland without her sister. Nora was very reserved, Theresa was the opposite, fun loving and outgoing. While Nora remained in the cabin for most of the voyage, Theresa made friends and had a wonderful time.

Both women got jobs and lived in a boarding house, sharing a room. Nora puts off her wedding, without any real explanation, until Theresa finds herself in a compromising situation. For Theresa, America is a playground. She is naïve and having so much fun, until she gets mixed up with a man and becomes pregnant. She is sent to a convent until the baby’s birth. Nora suddenly decides to marry Charlie immediately and begins to pretend she is pregnant. She has decided she will raise Theresa’s baby so that her sister will not have to give him up entirely. The baby will not be given up for adoption. His name will be Patrick, the name chosen by Theresa. This is what was done back in that day when a young unmarried female found herself pregnant. It was hidden and considered shameful. That decision to sacrifice her life is what drives the story forward. We watch and learn how this decision affects Theresa, Patrick, Nora and her future family as they go forward into the future.

Theresa’s child, Patrick, is a difficult young boy. Nora, exhausted, grows resentful. Soon, angry words are exchanged and Theresa decides to run away, promising to one day return. She asks Nora to love Patrick until that time. She reunites with a friend she met on the boat over and soon becomes a teacher, fulfilling Nora’s dream for her. Later, she becomes a cloistered nun.

Nora loses contact with her for years, and she grows angrier. She has somewhat of a bitter nature. Eventually, when there is contact, she refuses to allow her sister to have anything to do with her son or with the rest of her family after a brief conversation. She never even tells her other children that she has a sister. Patrick does not know that Theresa is his mother. It is not hard to keep up this façade as decades pass, because Theresa, now known as Mother Cecilia, does not leave the convent. Secrets proliferate; lies become what is interpreted as the truth.

The growing pains of the Rafferty family are dissected. The bumps in their relationships are explored. I viewed Nora as a woman with two sides, either cruel or kind. She was strict and very bound to old ways and the rules she had always lived by. While Theresa finds peace, Nora holds onto grudges and wallows in her resentment. Family dynamics are splayed to be viewed and judged by the reader.

My own feelings for Nora were somewhat schizophrenic, vacillating from respect to disgust. Although she often did what she thought was best, she was often close minded, cruel and resentful. It sometimes outweighed the moments when she opened up her heart. She was always protecting herself and her family from what others might think. She was very controlled. Her character and behavior was typical of the Irish immigrant of that time period, and the narrator portrayed her perfectly as far as personality and accent, placing her in the time period appropriately. The author described her well and made the atmosphere of the times and the environment in Boston real. She brought Nora’s and Theresa’s feelings, their dreams and disappointments, to the table, placing them in the mindset of that 50’s decade.

It was interesting, however, to watch each of the women grow, one becoming more socially active after being a shy young woman and one who was never shy becoming retiring and choosing to live in a silent world; one who loved fashion who retreated inside a habit and one who never gave fashion a second thought breaking out of that mold and even running social events.

Because it takes place from the mid 1950’s to around the end of the first decade of the 21st century, social mores, women’s rights, alcoholism, scandals of the church and improper behavior of the priests and nuns, abortion and birth control were sprinkled and explored throughout the narrative. The discussion of religion was approached very openly and honestly as was the discussion of alternate choices of love interests.

The narrator represented each of the characters well, capturing individual personalities and accents so that each was recognized as a part of a particular background. I enjoyed listening to her Irish brogue which was charming and authentic sounding to my ear. She made the story come alive on every page so that I witnessed the hardship, the sadness, the joy and the fears of Nora and her sister Theresa.

I had some difficulty following the thread when the story moved back and forth in time trying to explain certain events more fully, and at those times, there was some repetition, as well. The politics of the day was inserted through the use of the church and its stand on women, abortion, sex and marriage, but was handled without prejudice. I enjoyed the dialogue between the characters. It felt as if they were real as they struggled to communicate with each other and live in the more modern world. The reader witnesses their response to both failure and success.

The author analyzed relationships, family interactions, and changing mores and technology over the decades. She showed how choices alter our lives, often behind the scenes without our knowledge; some can make peace and some can never find it, instead choosing to make everyday a war zone.

In the end, I thought it was interesting that Theresa had a child out of wedlock, completely unplanned; unmarried, and is shamed by everyone who knows. Yet, in the end, Brigitte, Nora’s daughter, involved in a lesbian relationship, is not married and is carefully planning her own pregnancy using a sperm donor, without shame. Our values have traveled in a full circle. I wondered, also, how much did Theresa or Nora really adjust and change to accommodate the changing world? Did both just march in place?

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment

Where the Light Falls, Allison Pataki, Owen Pataki, authors; Bruce Mann, narrator

frenchWhen the book begins, it is three years after the 1789 storming of the Bastille, in the winter of 1792. Readers witness the public execution of the Marquis de Valière who dies with dignity. From what we learn, his only crime is his noble birth. The reign of terror is soon to begin.

The Marquis has two sons, Remy and Andre. Andre falls in love with Sophie de Vincennes, the niece of General Murat who is, for some reason, an enemy of Andre de Valière. Recently widowed, Sophie’s uncle has brought So-So to Paris for what he claims is her protection. Sophie had been married to Count Jean-Baptiste. While attending a party, she meets and falls in love with Andre, and he is completely smitten with her, as well.

Their love is thwarted because of the political situation in France. The country is going through growing pains as it throws off the yoke of the nobility, including the King and his wife and anyone who had anything whatsoever to do with the aristocracy. The people are angry and hungry for bloodshed. They want revenge for what they perceive as the injustices done to them by the monarchy.

George XVI is executed along with his wife, Marie Antoinette and chaos begins to overcome Paris as the people thirst for vengeance and a desire to see their perceived enemies executed, beheaded, in order to pay for their crimes.

Andre has given up his title and become a Captain, fighting for liberté, égalité, fraternité, in the service of the French military. He soon discovers, along with Jean-Luc St. Clair, an attorney working for the new revolutionary government, that the motto seemed meant only for the lower classes. Those of noble birth were not entitled to the fair trials of the justice system. He as a former nobleman is in danger. There are those who harbor deep resentment toward him regardless of how he fights for them with honor and valor. When he becomes acquainted with a certain group of councilmen, in Paris, he discovers how brutal they really can be, and in particular, he discovers the brutality of one attorney named Guillaume Lazare and the General who is Sophie’s uncle, Murat.

For the next several years, the authors take the reader through some of the more momentous events in the history of France, the battles, the conquests and the rise of their future Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, the Empress. As the story plays out, the reader is faced with the tension and danger that the revolution forces upon Jean-Luc and Andre Valière. It feels fraught with fear.

The atmosphere of the Revolution, the anger of its citizens and the rancor felt by those who deeply resented the nobility was felt on every page. The effort of those whose sin was only incurred by birth, to rectify their perceived wrongdoing was ignored by many in the mobs who lusted after their blood believing even their progeny must be prevented from contaminating the world. The innocent and guilty both faced the guillotine. Just the hint of an accusation was enough to condemn a victim to death. No proof was required. Vengeance took center stage during this period, and it did not end until Maximilien Robespierre, a Jacobin who was associated with the Reign of Terror, was himself beheaded.

In the end, with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and the death of King George XVI, the French replaced a King with an Emperor, barely noticing the irony of their actions.

The authors have taken this history of the French Revolution and woven into it a story of intrigue, betrayal, grudges and vendettas and surrounded them with a romantic story of two families dedicated to supporting France, placing them in the thick of things to show how the Revolution affected those accused of crimes and on the other hand, those accusing them. The reader may well be struck by the horror of the “blood lust” that accompanied the fight for democratic principles and equality and also by how easily it is to lose the sense of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice when the mob rules and hate and anger govern behavior. This narrative is presented in descriptive, emotionally wrought sentences that make it hard for the reader to put the book down. It is exciting, as well as interesting to watch, as the French citizens attack each other without truly noticing their own complicity in wrongdoing, until they begin to fear for their own fate, as the developing rules and regulations might also offer them no recourse to any accusations.

Although some of the events and characters are real, some are only based on real events and characters, according to the authors. They have also taken liberty with regard to the timing of some events.

In the modern France, The Marseillaise is still the National Anthem, and the belief in liberté, égalité, and fraternité is going strong. Bastille Day symbolizes the birth of their democracy and is celebrated every year on July 14th, commemorating the uprising of the common people in 1789.

In some ways, I thought the authors got caught up in the present day politics as they were essentially presenting a case against class distinctions and for the civil rights of all, but by showing the tactics used to get from point A to point B, they also showed that the methods used and results attained were not always pretty or just. The injustice of racism was introduced using the characters of General Dumas, a man of mixed race and questionable parentage, and by Andre’s Egyptian friend who was apparently of the Muslim faith. They, coincidentally, were the ones who essentially saved Andre when he was in danger, while those who were paler of skin were portrayed as evil, like Murat and Lazare. Also, there were a bit too many near death experiences for Andre which lacked some credibility. However, I learned of common abusive practices of the nobility, that I had been unaware of, like the “droit de seigneur”, the right of the nobleman to take the bride the night before her wedding. In addition, on the positive side, the book inspired me to do some further research into the French Revolution since my romanticized memory of it did not include the idea of women being involved in the effort to end the Monarchy or very much knowledge about the Reign of Terror. My memory was more about the Marseillaise and the celebratory events surrounding Bastille Day, having once witnessed the parades in Paris. I was unaware of the fact that celebrating religion was forbidden in favor of reason, during the time of the Revolution and did not realize that honorific terms were forbidden. Everyone was called by the term citizen or citizeness. A book that teaches is a good book. The epilogue was important because the authors explained to the reader which characters were real, which were made up out of whole cloth and which were based on real people.

The events of the French Revolution seem eerily to have presaged some of the events of today, with mob rule dominating the news and those committing violence declaring themselves honorable while damning those they make their victims. Vengeance, anger and hate, when harnessed, may cause good people to do bad things. The authors did a good job in creating the mood during the time of the Revolution, and in so doing, created an image in my mind too similar to today’s events. The storming of the Bastille and the storming of our political rallies are both related to blood lust and revenge. Both show people out of control. In the book, Robespierre notes that the people are not inspired by love, but rather by hate. Is that what is happening today as the left accuses the right of all sorts of fantasies that never occurred? Is the fake news of today no better than the cries for the death of innocent people during the Reign of Terror? Are we having our own moment in history which will be remembered in the same way as the Brown Shirts are remembered during the time of The Holocaust? At those times, the people were driven by hunger and fear, hate and anger. Was Robespierre right and prescient in his beliefs?

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment

The Judgment, Franz Kafka

the judgmentA young man has betrayed a friend and his father. His father waited until just the right time to damn him for his sins and in answer to his father’s wish, he jumps to his death and drowns. It is a short story about a man who closed his eyes to the needs of his father and his friend to benefit himself, and in the end, the hand of G-d or his conscience comes down, and he destroys himself.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment

The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

metamorphosisThis short story is mind bending. Can you imagine waking up in your bed changed totally, unable to communicate effectively, unable to move without a tremendous struggle? Can you imagine being in such a position when you are the chief breadwinner for your parents and younger sibling who rely totally upon you, living quite a sedentary life, showing little gratitude for your efforts while you sweat and toil for them.

This story is about a young man who wants nothing but to help his family to survive, and they seem to be content to take advantage of his every effort without question for his motivation or their acquiescence. It is only when this metamorphosis takes place that their true colors come out and his true hidden anger and resentment are expressed, however futilely.

Rather than embrace him in his horrible deformity which has come onto him so suddenly, they tend to their own emotional needs and physical reactions and needs. There is no effort to communicate with the one that is different in appearance and expression, so far as they know. Yet, he is still the son and the brother in a different form. They are unwilling to recognize or attempt to conquer his “disease”, rather they wish to hide the offensive creature he has become from themselves and the outside world.

Gregor’s personality remains the same for the most part, throughout his change; he seems mostly eager to succeed and to adjust to his circumstances, as always, thinking of others, and doing the best he can to serve their needs, disregarding his own. His sister Grete is, at first, considerate, but unused to the extra work she is now required to do, she soon grows resentful. His mother wishes to preserve his memory as if he will return to normal one day, but is unable to accept him in his current form or even look upon him without falling faint. His father resents his son for his change and his inability to continue to keep them in their current state of comfortable living. He succumbed to his own weakness, and neither he nor his wife nor daughter ever rose to the occasion and got their own gainful employment until they were forced to do so. Only the strong willed, earthy housekeeper is unafraid of Gregor in his new state. Only she is able to enter his room without trepidation and only she can dispose of him without emotional impact. The others pretend he never existed after he expires. The son and brother disappears from their collective memory as they are freed from the stress, strain and pain, if not of caring for him, of recognizing that he even exists. Their shame kept them from leaving their home or caring for him properly in his deformed and debilitated state. They are now suddenly freed from the constraints he placed upon them.

Is this not the current state of affairs in our world today where one group is unwilling to accept the other and instead either ignores or attacks it unmercifully, gives it only lip service and does not properly care for it, address it or try to understand the “others”. Those who say they believe in free speech, those who find symbols upsetting rather than trying to understand the symbol itself, as with statues, are not looking at the broader issue, the issue of trying to understand the feelings expressed by those who oppose their ideas.

This story could lead to a vibrant discussion about values, gratitude, responsibility, loyalty and respect for one’s country, citizens and historic efforts and struggles even if we do not agree with all of them. Would it not be kinder to give someone the benefit of the doubt before rushing to judgment?

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, author

astrophysicsThe book is very readable, but perhaps not very comprehensible. As the author attempts to explain the entirety of the astrophysical world, it made one thing very clear to me. I was not up to the task. He begins his book citing the earliest scientists and the earliest theories, and he pronounces them as the only sure things, the only provable reality. It may be so, but as the pages turned, I realized another reality, most of his information was going right over my head into the astrophysical world he was describing. Like air and water, hopefully, the information would someday be recycled and retrieved in the same way he explains that water and air return.

Although it is written in short chapters, with easy to read sentences, and most of the theories presented have stood the test of time, like those of Albert Einstein and Issac Newton, and the inventions of Hubble and Kepler which are still front and center in scientific circles, too many years have passed between the present and the past in which I was privy to the study of astronomy, chemistry, biology and physics. I was never a scholar in those fields, but rather was more of a voyeur. So, while I may remember certain terms like comets, asteroids, bacteria, electrons, atoms, neutrinos, and ions, I sure don’t have fluency in the science of pulsars or quarks, nor did I ever hear of panspermia before. While I remember loving learning about the periodic chart, I did not remember most of the elements he introduced. I remember the more common ones like carbon, hydrogen, sodium and helium, among others, even remembering their chemical symbols, but I never heard of thorium, technetium or gallium.

My summation of the book is that while it was not a chore to read, it really is meant for someone who wants to get a bird’s eye view of the subject, someone who simply wants to review what he once knew well. This book is not a crash course, it is the “after the course” review.

The book is written with so much humor that I was encouraged to continue reading, even as I realized I was a lost cause. The astrophysics I was learning could fit into a thimble with the millions of other molecules residing there joining me!

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Books for Young Adults, Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

Mrs. Fletcher, Tom Perrotta, author; Carrie Coon, Finn Wittrock, Alexandra Allwine, JD Jackson, Nicky Maindiratta, Jen Richards, Sarah Steele, Aaron Tveit, narrators

mrs fletcherThe book was interesting when it dealt with issues of autism, senior care, loneliness, PTSD, sexual identity and sexual abuse, but it didn’t develop these subjects, instead it just touched upon them as a way to introduce and dwell on irresponsible behavior, sexual deviance and lust. It presented a cast of miserable characters who never seemed to really suffer any consequences for their poor behavior. In fact, the only ones who paid for their errors in judgment were their victims, those upon whom they inflicted their selfishness. Although the sexual descriptions were not very graphic, they seemed to occupy most of the book. The language used by the author was crude. Both male and female characters seemed to think with a brain that was located somewhere between their waists and their thighs and nowhere near their heads. They were immature and irresponsible. They all served their own needs first and foremost barely thinking of the consequences of their foolishness.

Eve Fletcher runs a senior citizen’s center. She is divorced and is an unhappy parent who has just dropped off her only child, Brendan, at college. Her advice to him boils down to, “have fun”. He is immature and spoiled and proceeds to do just that, drinking and smoking marijuana, until his grades suffer. He becomes involved with a young woman named Amber. Amber has a brother who is autistic. Brandon’s half brother is also autistic. They both attend a group, the Autism Awareness network. Amber is a free spirit. She is sexually active but berates herself for always going after the wrong kind of love object. She does not really recognize the error of her own ways and blames others when things do not go according to Hoyle. During a moment of sexual abandon, Brandon speaks very crudely to her, and she dumps him.

Eve was a contradiction in terms. She told her son to treat women respectfully, but she didn’t expect to behave responsibly herself. Move over Mrs. Robinson. You have met your match with Eve. The empty nest looms wide before her. She enrolls in a community college and signs up for a class on gender in society and attempts to try to adjust to her new life of loneliness on the one hand, and freedom on the other. She too wants to “have fun”. She becomes addicted to porn sites on the internet and engages in sexual experimentation.

Margo is the adjunct professor who is teaching Eve’s class. She is lonely. They become friends. She was once a man. Some students are confused about the idea of a transgender teacher. They have never known anyone like that before. There is a young man, Dumell in the class. He had served in Iraq and has PTSD. He and Margo become involved in a relationship.

Amanda is a young woman who works for Eve as an event manager. She is also lonely. There are a lot of lonely people in this book. Amanda uses the internet to arrange one night stands for sex. Eve and Amanda become friends, and Eve discovers that she has feelings for women and wouldn’t mind some sort of experimental relationship. Amanda rebuffs her advances.

Julian is a former high school classmate of Brendan’s. Brendan had once bullied him and the experience of being locked in an outhouse, however briefly, left him with PTSD. Eve is attracted to Julian, although he is a teenager. He seems attracted to her. He is also attracted to Amanda and Amanda is attracted to him. Eventually, Amanda, Eve and Julian engage in a ménage a trios.

Eventually, Eve became involved with a man who also liked porn. He had a daughter who didn’t believe in gender. She was attracted to the person, not the sexual identity. Her boyfriend was an asexual. He had no sexual desires at all. Amber contacts Brendan to say she was at much at fault as he was when they were at school. She recognized her own complicity in what had happened between them.

Brendan had left college and was learning a trade, plumbing, the trade of his mother’s new husband, but was thinking of returning to school. The book was turning into a fairy tale with all of the issues neatly resolved. I found the conclusion to be contrived as everyone’s life somehow turned out better than they expected. It didn’t feel authentic. I finished it out of respect for an author I admired. I would only recommend it to those interested in reading about people who are unhappy, dysfunctional and even morally repugnant at times

Summing it up, there was a transgender person, a possible lesbian, an asexual, and probably a homosexual and bisexual somewhere in the mix. There were a variety of emotional problems represented. There did not seem to be a shortage of characters with problems, just a shortage of those who had no sexual and emotional issues. In short, in this book, there was never an adult in the room.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment

Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie, author; Tania Rodrigues, narrator

home fireWhen I turned the last page of the book I was struck dumb. I didn’t expect the ending, and I highly recommend that no one attempt to read the ending before they begin. Don’t peek, I implore you! The story plays out logically and clearly, and at the end, it will make the reader question his/her views on immigration, terrorism, Muslims, and also the government, with its regulations and its representatives with regard to all those issues. Most likely, the reader will bounce back and forth, for and against each idea as the story unfolds.

When it begins, the reader meets Isma Pasha, the caregiver of her twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz; she is living in England. She is thoughtful and reserved, observes the ritual of prayer, though not five times a day, and wears a hijab, but is not extreme in her views. She is careful about how she expresses herself because of her father’s past. He was a known jihadist. When her twin siblings were orphaned, at age 12, she, almost 19, put her life on hold and stepped in to care for them. Now that they are 19, she would like to continue living her own life. When she is given the opportunity, by a former teacher, Dr. Hira Shah, to study at Amherst University, in Massachusetts, she grabs it. There she meets Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary in England, Karamat Lone. She becomes enamored with Eamonn, but it is unrequited love because Eamonn considers himself like her brother. However, he does become interested in her sister after seeing her photo. Aneeka is beautiful.

When Isma made her decision to leave Wembley for America, it portended great changes for the twins, but they seemed to take the news well, with Parvaiz showing a bit more concern about it. He did not want to move out of his home to live with his Aunty Naseem. Feeling more abandoned than his sister, who can already taste the greater freedom she will have, his personality begins to change. He becomes more secretive and reticent. He meets and becomes completely entranced by Farook who becomes a father figure of sorts as he twists Parvaiz’s mind into thinking that he too should leave Wembley, but not for the purpose of study like his sister. When Farook tells him that men should be in charge of women, Parvaiz likes the idea. He believes his life is suddenly coming apart due to the actions of his sisters. He is an innocent who is unsuccessful academically, under employed and very naïve; when Farook lionizes Adil Pasha, Parvaiz’s  father, for his jihadism, he is easily seduced. Farook convinces him to leave England for Syria and to join him in his fight for the Caliphate.

Aneeka wears a hijab and prays, is a free spirit and much more outgoing and modern than her quieter, modest sister. She seems quick to judge and is impulsive, expecting to get her way because of her beauty. When she learns that her sister has betrayed her brother, reporting him to the authorities, they become estranged. She becomes very involved with the same Eamonn her sister knew. Does she have an ulterior motive, or is it a true made in heaven romance? The twin’s relationship is very close, something I can completely understand. As a twin, I can relate to the special bond that exists, the special loyalty that embraces the siblings. Twins have a unique connection and the absence of one often makes the remaining one feel incomplete. I can identify with Aneeka’s unconditional devotion to Parvaiz.

At 19, Isma felt forced to make very different choices than her siblings did at the same age of 19, and as her mother did as a young woman when she married Adil Pasha who became a warrior for the Caliphate. Throughout the narrative, there is a thread about the travails of being “other” in a country. They are Asians of Pakistani origin; their skin color, religious practice and relationship to terrorism and terrorists affects their behavior everyday. They feel like outsiders. They have to be more careful than most, careful not to create suspicion by doing anything another would not even give a second thought. Their “Britishness” is questioned, as is their loyalty. Any relationship by anyone with a terrorist is scrutinized, recorded and monitored.  Although the twins never knew their father, since he left their mother before they were born, the stigma of his terrorism follows them also, and leaves its mark on them, their relatives and their future prospects. It vaguely reminded me of what happens in Israel when generations are punished for the behavior of one miscreant. Families become collateral damage. Is that necessary or just?

The book highlights the cycle of mistrust and violence that exists in this age of terrorism, in this age of Islamic extremism. America is perhaps, among other things, hated for its tactics in fighting the radicals, for its black op sites, for Guantanamo; Britain is perhaps despised for its welcoming of them and then its attempt to control them. Pakistan seems to encourage them by doing nothing to mitigate the extremism and may actually seem to be allowing it to fester. In the book, the feeling imparted is that the jihadists feel rejected and abused by their host countries. None of them seems to feel any remorse or take responsibility for their own brutality. They are defiant, feel they are justified in their fight and feel outrage about the way they are treated when they are caught. Those that might repent have no way back, no way to escape the heinous battle they have joined.

The cruel examples of radical Muslim behavior, like their treatment of women, even leaving them to die because they are uncovered and must wait for women to come to their rescue, or the practice of crucifixion, beheading, torture, and rape, are varied and many. It is hard to know, sometimes, on which side to come down regarding one’s sympathy in each specific instance, but the viciousness of the followers of this strict Koranic interpretation cannot but help sway the reader’s judgment in one direction or another. 

When the book begins, we witness the humiliation of Isma, because of her family history of terrorism, even though she is quite innocent. When it ends, we witness the result of the hard line responses to the problem of a hard line interpretation of a religious belief, and once again, we witness the suffering of those who are quite innocent because of a fear which is at times rational and at other times irrational, and  that promotes tragic results. Two parents make choices which will follow them for generations. There was the  Muslim family and the Christian family, the poor side of society and the wealthy side of society, the clash of cultures and beliefs that caused the apprehension, or perhaps panic, that may or may not have been justified at times; but the misunderstandings, by so many, l were pervasive all the time.

I enjoyed the audio but found that sometimes the narrator failed to delineate characters engaged in conversation. They sounded alike and it was difficult to determine who was speaking. Although this is a retelling of the Greek tragedy, the story of Antigone, by Sophocles, one does not have to know the classic to fully appreciate the novel.

There are many common threads and questions arising in the story that make for great discussion.

1-Aneeka easily seduces Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary. One has to wonder about her reasons. Are they selfish, matters of the heart, or perhaps even vengeance because of Isma’s part in the trouble Parvaiz now faces.

2-Meanwhile, when Parvaiz is seduced by Farook, what is it that makes him such easy prey?

3-Adil Pasha, the jihad, fought to establish the Caliphate. He was a devout Muslim. Did his folly infect his family into the future? What about the Home Secretary’s actions? “Were the sins of the father visited upon the sons?”

4-The Home Secretary renounced his Moslem religion to fit in. He believed “outsiders” should make themselves less different in order to be successful. Why did he believe it was necessary to do this?

5–Should Isma have been so thoroughly demoralized, scrutinized and humiliated at the airport because of family history when she tried to travel to America? She had not committed any crime, and her behavior was always exemplary. Where should the line be drawn between suspect and innocent victim?

6-Did personal animus play a part in every decision each character made? Was their intellect sidelined by the influence of their past and their conflicting emotions? 

7-Did continued stubborn adherence to rules without the ability to bend them when necessary bring about tragedy?

8-Each character made what they thought was a good choice, but it turned out otherwise. If we compare the choices of Isma, Aneeka, Parvaiz, Eamonn, Adil, and Karamat, are any of them appropriate and what makes them so?

9-If someone makes a terrible choice, as in jihadism, should there be no avenue for forgiveness when the error of that choice is recognized? Is there no hope for redemption, for forgiveness? Can that person ever be trusted again?

10-Was there one point in the narrative that foreshadowed the events or was the catalyst leading to all others?


Posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction | Leave a comment