A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

by Atia Abawi
First sentence: “You were born to die.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: January 23, 2018
Content: There are some disturbing scenes of violence in the book, both due to war and due to extremists. It will be in the Young Adult (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

I’m going to say this up front: I couldn’t finish this one. It’s not because it was bad; it’s actually an important book, being about the Syrian civil war and the things the refugees go through to survive. It’s stark and unflinching.

And it’s narrated by Destiny.

Which is my problem.

Much like The Book Thief, I just couldn’t get into a book narrated by an ephemeral, all-seeing third entity. I just can’t. I tried. I gave it half the book, and I’d be okay with it for a while, but then Destiny would stick its nose into the story and pull me back out of it.

I was in the minority with The Book Thief, and I suspect I’ll be in the minority with this one. As I said, it’s important. It’s a book about an important subject, written by a person of color. I just wish I could have finished it.

Exit West

exitwestby Mohsin Hamid
First sentence: “In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy floating around the office and got passed in my direction.
Content: There are a half dozen or so f-bombs, and some sort-of sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

This one has got the entire staff of the bookstore all a twitter. Seriously. They LOVED it. It’s SO good. You HAVE to read it. So, when they threw it my direction, I decided to give it a try.

It’s nominally the story of a couple, Saeed and Nadia,¬†who meet in a country that’s on the brink of a civil war. It vaguely feels middle eastern, but I don’t know if that’s because that’s me projecting, or if it’s what the author intended, but it’s what I saw. Their relationship is a fitful one at the start, but as the insurgents and rebels move into their city, their relationship picks up speed. And when Saeed’s mother is killed, they decide to leave together, to find any way out.

But it’s not really about the plot or the characters with this one. No, this is about the words. And they are gorgeous. It’s a slim novel, which shows that no word is wasted. And it feels that way, too. Every word is important, every line leads somewhere else. It is something to sink oneself into, enjoying the words on the page.

I’m usually a plot and character person, so it’s different for me to give myself over to something that’s so wholly, well, not. I enjoyed this one. Hamid gave faces and stories to refugees, to people who are fleeing their home and trying to find a new place and the way that changes a person.

It makes it worth reading.