I have to admit that I wasn't crazy about this book. For the first half of the story, the writing seemed very muddy and undeveloped. There was an unfocused quality to the story and it took a few tries to actually get into the grist of the story. I actually put the book down for awhile and read something else before picking it back up again. When I did get back to it I had to spend an awful lot of time trying to psych myself up before beginning to settle into the story. Coupled with these problems was the fact that Kathmiya was an unmitigated whiner. I got really tired of her haranguing her mother, sister and anyone else who would listen about the unhappiness of her life. She seemed so sour all of the time and it was really hard for me to like her. Aarti mentions much the same reaction to Kathmiya in her review and I would have to agree with her. Kathmiya was just tiring.
On the other hand, the story had a lot of great intrigues going on within it. I really liked the mystique surrounding the secret of Kathmiya's past and felt that the author really did a wonderful job of keeping me in suspense over those sections. I wanted to know more, and ultimately, that's what kept me turning the pages furiously. After the blundering of the first section of the book, I felt like the author had recovered nicely and turned this into a very entertaining novel that kept me guessing. I almost wish that the Kathmiya's secret had been alluded to earlier on, that way I wouldn't have felt so hopeless about having to make my way through the book. I also liked the way the supporting characters had their place within the mystery. It was a great coming together of all the aspects and players, and had this been the main thrust of the narrative, I would have enjoyed the book much, much more.
Although I had my problems with Kathmiya, I really found myself enamored over Shafiq. Whenever he was on the page, I knew that I was sure to have my interest captured. Shafiq's portions of the story felt more weighty and important, because not only was he dealing with his attraction to Kathmiya but also the severe tensions that the war in Europe and the British settlers were bringing into his homeland. He was an unapologetic supporter of the Iraqi way of life and liberties, and several other characters and their problems with the political situation were woven within his story. There were some very moving and revealing sections about the problems that the Jews of the community faced during these times and I thought that it was extremely heartening that most of the community refused to see separation between the Jews and Muslims and treated each other as neighbors and brothers. It was nice to see that even in extreme situations, the people of Iraq formed such a great sense of community.
There were also some really moving and emotional scenes in the book that I felt gave the story a really great depth and range. From the death of one of Shafiq's most beloved friends to the wrongful imprisonment of a suspected Zionist, I felt that there were some absorbingly dramatic turns within the narrative that really gave the author full use of tension and emotional atmosphere. Even the conclusion of the book hinged on a bit of drama and I found that I appreciated the slightly messy and unresolved ending more than I would have had everything been neatly tied up with a bow. There was a really good mix of pathos embedded within the story that I thought was very interesting.
Though there were definitely some really great things about this book, I would have to say that it wasn't really a spectacular read for me. I felt that the story's slow and laborious start coupled with the unlikeablilty of the protagonist really ruined most of this book's appeal for me. It certainly wasn't the book I had been expecting when I picked it up. I feel that it's a shame that I was so prejudiced against this book from so early in the story, but I really felt that I couldn't help my reaction to it. I am unsure of who I would recommend this book to, as I am sure that most readers wouldn't have the patience for such a slow start combined with a whiny character, so I will just close this review with the conclusion that this book had it's moments, but overall, it was an uneven read.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.