In Klepper’s debut novel, a stay-at-home mom longing for greater purpose returns to work as a pro bono lawyer and finds herself representing a Syrian refugee seeking asylum.
Jessica Donnelly worked as a high-priced corporate lawyer for a white-shoe firm but walked away from her career in order to raise her three children. Ten years later, she feels unfulfilled, especially as she watches her husband’s career bloom. She decides to return to work as a volunteer for the International Asylum Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to assisting refugees seeking safety in America from political persecution and war. Jessica takes Amina Hamid’s case. Two years ago, Amina fled the violent tumult of Syria to stay with relatives in Baltimore. She’s reluctant to accept Jessica as her lawyer—her previous lawyer was uselessly incompetent, and she’s unimpressed by Jessica’s complete lack of experience. Jessica convinces Amina to give her a shot, but the odds are heavily stacked against asylum seekers, and Amina is painfully reticent when it comes to revealing the details of her flight from Aleppo, information necessary for Jessica to mount a successful case. Slowly, Amina discloses the horrifying truth—soldiers murdered her younger brother, attacked her mother, tortured her father, and her husband simply vanished one day—a gruesome tableau affectingly described by Klepper. Jessica tries to help not only win Amina asylum, but also find a job, and both encounter shrill prejudice that sometimes crescendos into violence. The author sensitively captures the anxiety the nation experiences regarding immigration from countries plagued by anti-Western extremism; Jessica’s husband, Danny, an educated man who works in cybersecurity, surprises her with the depths of his skepticism. Also, Klepper artfully depicts the ways even the quotidian aspects of life can be challenging for the radically displaced: When Amina is asked to provide her college transcripts as part of a job application, she tersely replies: “No. I... I do not know that I can get a transcript sent. There’s a war.”
A poignant exploration of a timely political topic.