Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: Through the Veil

When I clicked on a link my former pastor from Jordan posted on Facebook to an article his wife had written, I had no idea what a powerful writer she was. But I spent the next several days thinking about that article. When Lisa's book was available for pre-order, I knew I had to have it. It arrived 2 days ago, and I finished reading it this morning.

Through the Veil is a collection of essays, mainly about women Lisa met in Syria and Jordan. I love how she weaves the thread of their stories around her own childhood memories and experiences, drawing both into a unified whole. Many of the cultural features I encountered during my time in Jordan are addressed in these essays: the evil eye, modesty and propriety, hospitality, honour. But Lisa, who was then the age I am now, saw them differently from how I did, and integrates them into her understanding in a more complete, rational, adult way than I was able to as a teenager. I appreciate the depth and compassion of the stories she tells, looking honestly at herself as well as the friends and neighbours she writes about. Many people I've met in the West have flimsy cardboard ideas of what life in the Middle East is like - Lisa gives a well-rounded, fleshed out view. There aren't pat answers or stereotypes; instead she succeeds in fulfilling the promise of her first chapter:

"I write the Damascus I love, but sometimes her face blurs and I can’t make out details: both dreams and memories are tangled things. They twist themselves around smells and feelings and other memories of times and people far removed. They tumble to the page like a child at play, breathing hard. I calm and comb them, working out the catches and finding the story enmeshed in strands of memory. I write and rewrite, but some memories remain confused and tangled. I work the others, braiding them and tying the ends with reflection and sometimes also tying them with regret."

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