A family drama set against the backdrop of Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya.
In this debut novel, a college romance that spans continents settles into a contented marriage disrupted by political intrigue. Singapore-born Lina is attending college in the 1970s United States, enjoying a cosmopolitan social life among her fellow international students, when she meets Kamal, a Libyan graduate student and rising star in his country’s foreign relations. Their tentative attraction to each other grows quickly. By the time Lina and Kamal settle into marriage and parenthood, it’s time for their family to return to Libya, where Lina must adapt to both her numerous in-laws and life under a regime that’s growing increasingly unstable. Kamal slowly becomes disenchanted with Gadhafi, and Lina is repelled by the violence that becomes part of everyday life in Libya. Eventually, the family flees the country when Kamal is targeted for arrest, and they make their way back to the United States. Lina settles into life as a suburban housewife, but Kamal devotes himself to organizing fellow dissidents. Lina endures threats and harassment from agents of the Libyan government as they pursue opposition leaders in other countries, but when she discovers that Kamal is having an affair with one of his colleagues, she’s had enough. The blend of international intrigue—CIA and KGB agents play minor roles—with domestic concerns is balanced effectively, remaining in the realm of plausibility while adding a dash of adventure. Although the writing is somewhat unpolished, with occasional awkward phrasings—“I told him everything, ignoring his facial expressions, which might cause me to lose courage and omit some of the more pertinent information”—the book as a whole is engaging and readable. Lina, an observant and compelling narrator, propels much of the novel’s action while also serving as its emotional core. Through her eyes, readers discover the unfamiliar territory of 20th-century Libya, from the endearing warmth of Kamal’s family to the customs and culture to which Lina slowly adapts and embraces while retaining her identity as an outsider.
Political intrigue well-grounded in the evolving relationship between two lovers.