Thursday, September 20, 2018

Lilas Taha - Shadows of Damascus

Bullet wounds, torture, and oppression aren't the only things that keep a man-or a woman- from being whole. Debt. Honor. Pain. Solitude. These are things wounded war veteran Adam Wegener knows all about. Love-now, that he is not good at. Not when love equals a closed fist, burns, and suicide attempts. But Adam is one who keeps his word. He owes the man who saved his life in Iraq. And he doesn't question the measure of the debt, even when it is in the form of an emotionally distant, beautiful woman. Yasmeen agreed to become the wife of an American veteran so she could flee persecution in war-torn Syria. She counted on being in the United States for a short stay until she could return home. There was one thing she did not count on: wanting more. Is it too late for Adam and Yasmeen? 

Comment: I got interested in this book back in 2015 after seeing it in some list and commenting to my friend H. about it. For several reasons we decided to buddy read it and after all this time we finally got to it.
It's not a big book, it can be read quite quickly but I confess I expected something different bearing in mind the blurb.

In this story we meet Adam, a war veteran who was in Iraq fighting and where he met Fadi, a man who was contracted to be the team's translator. Things don't go well, Fadi ended up saving Adam's life and made Adam promise to do him a favor if ever he needs it.
Now, years after Adam was discharged due to health reasons, he receives a  note asking for help and Fadi wants Adam to help his younger sister Yasmeen by taking her to the US and marry her so she can be safe from the government's people.
Yasmeen is a young woman who saw her beloved Syria be destroyed by war and pain but she accepts help thinking one day she will return to her family. Things are very different in America ut she hopes Adam is a considerate man and will help her. She didn't count on getting to know him and his reality so well, though.

The way the blurb is presented and even only by reading what I say above, one might get the impression this is a romance. Indeed, there are some romantic elements in the story but now that I've finished, I don't think, as a romance, that this was well done.
If one thinks of this book being mostly a ficton story, not focusing on the romance, then it wasn't as amazing for me either so I'm struggling to try to think how to define this book.

This is the first book I've read by the author so the writing style is a complete surprise. This is not a long story (232 pages) and the font is bigger than in most editions so, overall, a not so big book.
I'm stressing out this aspect because, to me, the story didn't feel very complete. The author mentions and includes several updated and current scenarios we can know about in the news regarding war and the collapse of countries like Syria but to write about complex situations within a supposed romance plot just feels undone.

I wanted to read this story precisely because of that: how could a woman from a devastated country go to America, where many soldiers who have participated in the horrors in her country come from, finds love and healing with a man who also went through his own issues while fighting? Besides there's the inclusion of other domestic affairs which amount to a lot in such a small page count.
I just didn't have the impression the story was romantic if that was one of the goals here. The way things are written seems to jump from scene to scene and I felt we were told a lot but the action didn't follow the same pace so I feel I didn't get to see why these two would be a good match, much less why they could be in love.

Were they even in love despite some words exchanged? The book ends up in a hopeful note but... is that is? I don't think the book was properly finished, it's not even done in a whimsical or philosophical way where we can interpret at will, I really think the story was not done, with so many loose threads that the author left. 

The cultural aspects of the background of both Adam and Yasmeen were addressed in several occasions too and it was good to see how different they were but the reasons why they would be well matched escape me. Some scenes seemed off putting while we tried to be convinced that other people wouldn't be good for them (mostly in Adam's case) but the way things happened... I can't understand why this reads as strongly as some other readers claim. Yes, there are some difficult things to read about and it can be emotional here and there but all things considered, the plot was not well done, it included too many subjects and not enough development nor character growth (even excluding the romance part).

I think the contrasts were well chosen, that's a fact. Many details about war and PTSD and even expectations of what we see in people from other parts of world were good too.
But the execution of the novel could have been better and I don't think this was well achieved if one considers it to whether be only literature of world events or simply a romance novel.
Grade: 6/10

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