In this debut novel, a young man flees his home to be free of a dangerously disturbed brother, leaving behind both considerable privilege and his first love.
Adel Jacob is born to a prominent family; his father—Jacob Jacob—is a successful businessman and the mayor of their town, Crescent. The earnest and kind boy is easy prey for his domineering brother, Aslan, whom Adel finally realizes is more than just a garden-variety bully: He’s quite “insane,” and “something in him was beyond evil.” But despite Adel’s pleas for help, his parents are indulgent of Aslan’s increasingly dark behavior, to the point of complicity. Finally, after Aslan pushes him down a flight of stairs, nearly killing him and crippling him for life, Adel decides to leave Crescent for good despite his profound devotion to his first love, Mona. Years later, Adel returns home to confront an unresolved past and learns the truth about what happened to Mona in his absence. Hassanieh cleverly embeds that plot within another—as an adult, Adel meets Serene, a physical therapist assigned to treat him. She’s wracked with anxiety, temporarily separated from her husband and child, and plagued by troublingly vivid dreams. She slowly realizes those dreams bear some mysterious link to Adel’s life. The connection between Adel and Serene is immediately electric. There seems to be some promise that her dreams will allow him to fully comprehend his fate and that his destiny is the key to her peace of mind. The author impressively conjures a complex tale brimming with unpredictable twists and turns, and her double narrative is pulled off with artful delicacy. But her prose is gawky and stiff: “Serene felt a wave of hostility emanating from Shatha. Why do Shatha and society in general view nonconformists as a fissure in their aggregate?” In addition, Hassanieh grasps so laboriously for philosophical profundity that she often produces ponderous prose instead: “Celestial retribution cannot ease my quandary, for I was nothing but a malleable entity, kneaded by the adults in my life.”
An ingenious story weighed down by overintellectualized writing.