A civil war in Beirut separates a family that’s already emotionally fractured in this novel.
In 1976, Finlay Fortin lives in Beirut with wife, Mo, and his 15-year-old daughter, Anouk. Ever since “the troubles” began—the eruption of internecine war—it’s been a downward spiral into civil chaos. Photojournalist Mo’s boss disappeared and is presumed dead. Explosions of bombs regularly rattle the streets. However, Mo recklessly courts danger to score a sellable photograph, and Finlay worries that Anouk is becoming dangerously inured to the threats around her. One day, Anouk and a boy that she likes, Danny Delacruz, take the family car and go exploring on a beach just outside the perimeter of safety; soon, Danny is kidnapped and the car stolen. Finlay decides to quit his job and move his family to the French countryside; his French-born father left him a house there as part of an inheritance. Mo has no intention of exchanging professional opportunities for a bucolic landscape, but she disingenuously promises to follow the other two soon. Anouk, meanwhile, is livid, uninterested in leaving the place that she thinks of as home and fearful that she’s abandoning the missing Danny, who she hopes is still alive. Finlay, meanwhile, soon falls for a local widow and contemplates becoming a full-time baker. But his brief peace is punctured by two pieces of tragic news. Grant (The Burning Veil, 2010), in straightforward, often melancholy prose, masterfully juxtaposes a nation’s disintegration with a family’s, showing that, in both cases, the seeds of destruction were planted long ago. When Finlay first moves to Beirut, for instance, Grant shows how they feel safe and solid as a family, but as the political situation worsens, he effectively describes its effect on each character: Mo becomes happier, Anouk becomes desensitized, and Finlay becomes obsessed with leaving. Mo is painted in terms so severe that it’s very hard to have any sympathy for her—she dismisses her parental responsibilities, for example, with a perverse pride. But both Finlay and Anouk—as well as Finlay’s paramour, Colette—are limned with graceful nuance and sensitivity.
A sad tale told with an admirable lack of sentimentality.