Former AP Middle East correspondent Hamilton writes with striking clarity, using words as carefully as the Bedouin use water...

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STAIRCASE OF A THOUSAND STEPS

First novel, set in 1967, about a young Arab girl who dreams of the past—and foretells the future.

Jammana is 11, but her memories are much older. She’s not the first in her family to be both blessed and cursed with second sight. Her great-great-grandfather foretold a lifetime of troubles for her beloved grandfather Harif. First, his mother, Alula, a spirited and lovely woman, was struck by lightning during a freak storm. The shattered stump of the tree where she died was revered by the local women, but the bereaved boy soon became an outcast in the village of Ein Fadr, shunned by resentful neighbors who thought he now possessed knowledge of their secret sins and desires. Harif became a shepherd, wandering the hills of Samaria with his flock. His secret love was a near-outcast herself, although Alula was one of the few who showed her any kindness: Faridah, the midwife, who was married at 12 and divorced by her husband at 18 for her childlessness. Independent by circumstance and by nature, the young woman is also essentially fearless—qualities that arouse the suspicions of the village men. Although it is customary for a barren woman, or a woman past childbearing age, to become a midwife, it is whispered that Faridah is a ghouleh, an evil spirit, because of her knowledge of healing herbs and oils. She ignores it all and lives life on her own terms, becoming pregnant by Harif, by now betrothed to another. She miscarries, telling no one, and continues her work. Almost every soul in Ein Fadr was brought into the world by her skillful hands; and, years later, Jammana is devoted to her, following her everywhere and helping when she can. Still, there are those who hate Faridah: eventually, she’s found dead in a dry riverbed, her throat cut. But by whom?

Former AP Middle East correspondent Hamilton writes with striking clarity, using words as carefully as the Bedouin use water to bring a disappearing world to vibrant life. Here, in a luminous debut, are the voices, real and rarely heard, of traditional Arab women.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14725-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: BlueHen/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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