A quiet novel involving subtle studies of character, both Irish (not surprising) and Syrian (rather more surprising).
The first part of the novel focuses on Farouk, who, with his wife and daughter, is caught up in the war in Syria. Farouk is a doctor and feels he should stay in his war-ravaged country. The crucifixion of a young boy as a spy is the tipping point for his wife, however, so Farouk arranges to escape with his family, but they are double-crossed by the trafficker and stranded on a boat. In the chaos of a storm, lives are lost, and Farouk finds himself in a camp separated from his wife and daughter, not knowing whether they survived. The second part of the book focuses on the romantic entanglements of Lampy Shanley, who drives a bus for an orthopedic hospital, though he spends much of his time mentally preoccupied with and lamenting the loss of Chloe, his one great love. The third section introduces us to John and is in the form of a religious confession. This is his first “honest confession,” he tells us, and it’s a doozy, involving the premature death of his brother Edward—their father’s favorite son—and John’s inability to live up to his father’s expectations. Instead, he goes the other way and begins a systematic course of sinning. John admits to his darker side when, as part of his confession, he says, “I always had a fiendish knack for making people hate each other.” The final, brief section of the novel makes an attempt, not altogether successful, to provide some unity to the previous three parts, for it at least references all three of the major characters.
Ultimately, this is a novel that is long on character development but lacking a center.