Drew’s debut takes place in 1999, outside Ankara, Turkey, where two families—one American and Christian, the other Kurd and Muslim—are entangled first by natural disaster (earthquake) and then by cultural disaster (forbidden young love).
Shopkeeper Sinan, adherent of an old-fashioned country Islam, is hostile to Americans. They provided the weapons Turks used to kill Kurds like Sinan’s father, and they turned a blind eye to the killings. So he silently deplores the presence, in the apartment upstairs, of an American family. But after the devastating earthquake (the book’s best scene), Sinan’s only son, Ismail, is buried in the rubble for four days, and it turns out that his survival was made possible by the American woman’s self-sacrifice. Buried atop Ismail, she comforted him and managed to shuttle drops of water to his mouth until she died. Afterward, Sinan and his family move into an American refugee camp (a development Sinan resists and reviles), and in those close quarters his daughter, Irem, falls in love with Sarah’s rebellious son, Dylan. Meanwhile Dylan’s father, Marcus, develops a deep and needy attachment to Ismail, a link to his lost wife. Eventually the perilous intimacy between the families leads to twin crises: Marcus proselytizes Ismail, and Irem and Dylan run away together to the decadent city, leading to further catastrophe. Many characters here seem mainly types, but Sinan is a triumph: complex, knotty, contradictory—real.
A solid and persuasive, if somewhat workmanlike novel about lovers crossed not by the stars but by the clash of cultures.