In Marton’s debut thriller, a Syrian couple is desperate to find their infant son after he vanishes during their journey to a refugee camp.
For surgeon Danel Ottawa and wife Ashara, who live in war-torn Damascus, life is becoming increasingly dire. They opt to take their newborn son, Hamid, and flee to a safe haven at the Za’atari camp in Jordan. Unfortunately, armed thugs are stopping cars and reputedly killing Alawite infants like Hamid. So Sister Helen, who works at a local hospital with Danel, offers to take the boy, convinced that the men won’t bother a United Nations van full of nuns. But Sister Helen and Hamid never arrive at the refugee camp, and the parents wait there for hours that quickly turn into days. Danel ultimately decides to search for his son on his own, believing that the answers he needs are back in Syria. As the story opens, the author establishes tension almost immediately, as Ashara, pregnant with Hamid, must brave shelling and sniper fire as she treks to the hospital to deliver her son. Later, readers find out a fairly grim secret that Danel keeps from his wife. This may lose him some readers’ sympathy, but Marton assures readers that the surgeon is unmistakably tormented by guilt. Once the couple arrives at the camp, the story introduces exemplary supporting characters such as Bethshari, a woman who may be developing feelings for Danel, and 10-year-old Saeed, who, like Danel and Ashara, has lost some family members. The lengthy section in Za’atari causes a bit of a lull; Danel often discusses leaving to look for Hamid but waits for quite a while before finally going. He is, however, effectively shaken by tragedy, and his decision to confess his aforementioned sin heightens the characters’ emotional circumstances. Marton’s descriptions of Hamid are vivacious; his every chortle or whimper helps to make him a full-fledged character and not merely the baby of the story. Readers do eventually learn about what happened to Sister Helen and Hamid, leading to a fervent, indelible climax.
A novel that racks up the suspense, especially in its final act, and its searing melodrama really packs a punch.