A rewarding and beautifully written, if blood-soaked, tale.


Romeo and Juliet meets Arturo Pérez-Reverte and John le Carré in the dusty streets of Damascus in this novel from Syrian-born Schami, a bestselling author in his adopted homeland of Germany.

The setup: The body of a Syrian intelligence officer is found in a rather unnatural position that rules out suicide. A police commissioner named Barudi steps in to investigate. Stop one is the alluring young widow, “composed, cool, and monosyllabic”—and utterly unhelpful, though Barudi, lonely bachelor that he is, allows that he “would have liked to catch a glimpse of whatever lay beneath her façade.” What lies beneath Madhi Said’s murder, however, is anything but monosyllabic. Bit by bit, Schami reveals an endlessly complex tale that turns on a simple universal: Boy meets girl, boy’s mom and dad disapprove, girl’s mom and dad disapprove, mayhem ensues. The Shahin and Mushtak clans are bound, as if by fate, to hate each other with pure fire, as young Rana Shahin and Farid Mushtak discover, try as they might to get away from the discord and merely be together. (“I want you to know,” Rana tells Farid, “that even if I have to wait all my life to live free with you for a single day, I won’t regret it.”) The reader soon senses, as this long but swiftly paced narrative unfolds, that there is more going on than an ordinary vendetta, for Schami is carefully describing life under one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the world, and moreover, the dissolution of ancient bonds that enabled Syria’s Christians, Muslims and Jews to coexist. Schami’s multilayered allegory is never obviously allegorical, but it is insistent in exploring the mysteries of identity (“His real name was not George Mushtak at all, but Nassif Jasegi”). The truth that Barudi eventually ferrets out pleases no one, and, as in all dictatorships, he is punished for it—caught, as it happens, in a blood feud of a different kind.

A rewarding and beautifully written, if blood-soaked, tale.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56656-780-0

Page Count: 864

Publisher: Interlink

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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