I was sent a free copy of this book by the publishers in return for an unbiased review
‘With my legs bunched up near my chin, I buried my face into my knees and rocked. I smelled the rusty iron scent of blood on my jeans’
In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.
What I thought
I didn’t really know what to except going into this book apart from the setting and that it is one i would have definitely not picked for myself normally. I’m not sure how much I like the main character, Elizabeth. She felt very naive about where she was going and what she was doing. I’m not sure how much of that is just because of the time she was living in and how much of it is because you can’t necessarily see these things when you’re in the middle of them. but I do feel as someone who used to work in the British Embassy she would have a bit of a better idea of the world.
What I found really compelling about this book was the way the Elizabeth slid further and further into danger and didn’t notice it. As a reader it was uncomfortable reading as you watch her get groomed, I could feel my hackles rising and yet she didn’t notice anything was wrong. No matter how uncomfortable it was reading it I couldn’t look away, my attention was completely gripped by a part of the world I don’t understand yet with people in it who I understood perfectly. I can understand why Elizabeth wanted to go to Syria by herself, to make her own way in the world and take a less walked path. I can see how she found the world she was in so enticing that she couldn’t see any bad, I can see how she saw exactly what she wanted to see. From the inside it does appear to be a normal relationship and although things are a bit weird that she’s living outside the city with a bunch of other women. She’s simply lucky that she’s found somewhere to live that forces her Arabic to improve and everyone is friendly so why would she be suspicious? From the outside it does start off looking innocent but there are small things that stand out, and those small things continue to build until it is obvious that he’s grooming her. And as much as I do think she’s naive, part of that is due to the time it is set in. The tactics in grooming wasn’t as well known then, and without social media to keep her linked to home and other people Elizabeth is alone. Why wouldn’t she hold onto the people who are kind to her?
It’s only when Elizabeth starts to take notice of the world around her, and one of the girls she is living with admits the scorn they live under at great risk to herself, that she is able to understand at least a bit of what is going on. And it’s when she notices something similar happening to one of her fellow students that she realises just how insidious the relationship was and how much control she didn’t have.
From the beginning you know how this is going to end, not pretty, and yet it still happened in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I could see all the danger signs and yet somehow thought that Elizabeth was going to get out of it, or that she wasn’t stupid enough to do what she was doing…
The description of Syria was beautiful and it really made me wish I could visit their and see the sights for myself. But unfortunately I think it’s going to be many years before it is safe to visit
Why I read it
I was sent a free copy in return for an unbiased review but what made me interested in this book was the setting. I know next to nothing about Syria as a country outside of what I see on the news. I do know that before the war started it was supposed to be beautiful so the setting intrigued me, as well as the timing. In the 90’s things were starting to heat up behind the scenes.
Plus I like reading things that are different, and being offered something that I wouldn’t normally pick up interests me, because it sounds brilliant but isn’t something I would have discovered if I hadn’t decided to start this blog at the beginning of the year on a whim.
Although I wouldn’t normally read it and it’s a weird one to say I enjoyed because of the subject matter, I’m really glad that I read it. I found Elizabeth to be naive, even for the time, but I could understand where that naive-ness came from. Syria is shown in a beautiful light and yet you could see all the tension that was bubbling beneath the surface and that would soon become a full out war. This is a book of contradictions and delight.
Personally I would have been more interested if it had become a bit more of a thriller and looked a bit more at the secret service but I didn’t feel like it was missing anything.
Would I recommend? This is a very different book to my normal books but I can definitely think of a few friends that I’m going to recommend it to.
PopSugar: Set in a country that fascinates you, borrowed/ given as a gift, animal in the title, published in 2018, set in the decade you were born, problem facing society today.
I’m aware that I’ve massively fallen behind on my blog but I’m forcing myself to prioritise my mental health as well as my physical health. As much as I want to write stuff extreme fatigue is making everything more difficult than normal, and it’s not normally easy anyway.
Anyway, I’m going to keep posting whenever I can. I AM going to eventually finish the year, and I’m currently still in my June books.
As always please leave a comment, it makes me happy and spurs me on to keep writing.
P.S. The next review is for ‘No and Me’ by Delphine de Vigan