This book was originally written in Arabic by author Wajdy Mustafa, while he was in the midst of serving a Syrian prison sentence that was politically related. It was passed, in a rough form, from one prisoner to the next, as they waited eagerly for their turn at reading the haunting and captivating pages.
After his release, Mustafa was able to publish the work in English as well. It is a testament to the fact that love is love in any language, and its joys and sorrows are something anyone – anywhere – can relate to.
At the heart of the story is a forbidden love between a married woman named Julia and Selim, a young man she is tutoring in French. But there are many sub stories and characters, each with their own tale to tell – so much so that only careful reading will keep the changes in point of view and tense from becoming confusing. But it’s well worth paying close attention. The reader comes to know each character and is eager to find out more about their life and how it intertwines with the main characters. It’s impossible to divulge more information, because as mentioned, it’s complicated – but highly intriguing.
The book is at times poignant and beautiful, and at other times deliciously mysterious. As in his previous book, Levant Fever, Mustafa sets his story in Syria and Lebanon, giving it a unique glimpse into a region normally thought of as only hostile and dangerous. The author proves once again that good storytelling, the universal human condition, and the power of words can touch the heart and keep the pages turning.