In this novel, a Canadian woman who travels to Pakistan is forced to serve the dark political purposes of men from her past.
Valerie Steinman has a difficult enough life in Toronto, where her marriage is falling apart. The abusive Paul loves his Jewish mother, who will never accept the gentile Valerie as a member of the family. Then things get much worse: Ruby, a friend from Valerie’s childhood, reappears with unwelcome information. It turns out that Valerie’s father, Carl Miller, deserted the American military years ago and that she was born in South Carolina. As such, she is not a Canadian citizen. In fact, she has recently (unbeknown to her) been made a citizen of Pakistan due to her recent in absentia appointment to that country’s National Assembly. Ruby insists that Valerie accompany her to Pakistan or else her father’s true identity will be revealed and he will be imprisoned. Valerie goes to her new country with the understanding that it will only be for a year: “Valerie wondered how such a place possibly existed today. It survived on the border between the lawlessness of the wild west of American history and the rigid structure of its English colonial past. Pakistan. At least it was still on this earth, a part of the world, but just barely.” In Pakistan, Valerie becomes the prisoner of Ruby’s brother, a cruel man with a disturbing blend of Islamic and Nazi beliefs. Valerie hopes that her brother, Robert, can save her—unless he’s been part of the plan all along. In this thriller, Rana’s (A Model Wife for a Gentle Imam, 2012) writing is sharp and polished, and the narrative always feels propulsive due to the urgency built into every scene. But the fact that every piece of information needs to be wrestled out of the characters leaves the book feeling more confusing than mysterious. The horrible treatment of the female protagonist and the alarming racial politics of some of the male characters are not fully condemned by the narrative, which makes their use feel exploitative at times. The reading experience becomes unnerving, but it’s often not in a good way.
A fast-paced thriller with some troubling undertones regarding race and gender.