7 August 2016

Review #499: An Unsafe Haven by Nada Awar Jarrar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee. "

----Leonard Cohen

Nada Awar Jarrar, an award winning Lebanese author, pens an incredibly moving tale, An Unsafe Haven set against the modern day back drop of Beirut, where the civil war as well as the religious in differences are effecting lives of those who have forever braced the war and also to those who live like a refugee. This story is about three families mainly, whose lives are effected by the raging war in the neighboring country Syria that makes them question their faith, loyalty to one another as well as to their patriotism towards their homeland.


Imagine trying to live a normal life in a world which changes daily and where nothing is certain…
Hannah has deep roots in Beirut, the city of her birth and of her family. Her American husband, Peter, has certainty only in her. They thought that they were used to the upheavals in Lebanon, but as the war in neighboring Syria enters its fifth year, the region’s increasingly fragile state begins to impact on their lives in wholly different ways.

An incident in a busy street brings them into direct contact with a Syrian refugee and her son. As they work to reunite Fatima with her family, her story forces Hannah to face the crisis of the expanding refugee camps, and to question the very future of her homeland.

And when their close friend Anas, an artist, arrives to open his exhibition, shocking news from his home in Damascus raises uncomfortable questions about his loyalty to his family and his country.

Heartrending and beautifully written, An Unsafe Haven is a universal story of people whose lives are tested and transformed, as they wrestle with the anguish of war, displacement and loss, but also with the vital need for hope.

Hannah, a journalist, is certain that she never ever has to uproot from her homeland despite of the raging war in Syria, and her habibi (husband), Peter can only find hope and confidence in Hannah's words, stories and wisdom. Although, Hannah's Arab artist, friend, Anas, thinks otherwise, as his wife and his two children are missing, which leads Anas to believe that his Western wife might have ran back to her homeland when the war has just started igniting in their country. Another scary accident-cum-event, leaves Hannah shocked and appalled that the war has definitely transformed the lives of the local and the poverty stricken people, and as the war keeps booming across religion and economy, so the number of refugee and the camps are going up. And not long after, when this war itself claims one of the lives, it is certain that there is no future or hope in a country like this where everyday the war is claiming victims out of innocent lives.

The book is deeply touching and it made me look at the lives of the people in countries like Syria and Lebanon in a rather different or rather say, in an emphatic way. The struggle and the torture to survive in a forever war constantly bleed my heart and it is extremely sad to channel the pain of losing someone you love because of the war. The author penned a gripping story to narrate the tale of pain and hope amidst the war through the perspectives of six characters. The book simple held my attention right at its cover image which delectable painted and projected and captures the vibe of the underlying story.

The author's writing style is articulate as well as emphatic and extremely powerful that will grasp the readers right at the beginning. The narrative could have been a bit more emotional as well as engaging and little less descriptive, although local Arab dialect has inspired the dialogues playfully. Right from the very first page itself, the story has been unfolded in a haphazard manner, somethings falling back into the past memories of some character, then jumping back into the present timeline. Some readers might find it difficult to constantly pinpoint which event is going to happen after another, or rather say, they might find it tedious to figure out the larger picture that the author is trying to portray.

The pacing is slow, as there are so many layers in this story that are unfolded gradually through past and present. The author has strikingly captured the pain in the voices of the characters that will make the readers easily sync with those sorrowful feelings. The author has portrayed the reality through this story instead of enraging anybody against anything, so nothing radical can be expected from this book, just the simple truth.

The author's projection of Beirut is vivid and extremely eye-catchy despite the darkness of the city lingering through its eccentric by-lanes and limited city boundary. The author has not only painted the urban landscape, but has also captured the religious conflicts, political and revolutionary transformations, as well as the struggling lives of the refugees. The readers will be instantly transported to this forbidden and difficult land while visualizing the author's eloquent words that clearly paints the modern day portrait of Beirut and Syria.

The characters are really well drawn as each and every important characters scream out honesty and realism through their demeanor. The readers can easily find faith, hope and truth through the characters whose painful life stories will leave an impression that will linger into the hearts of the readers long after the end of this novel. Hannah maybe an insecure woman but the story helps her find security in her own world, Anas may have been certain about the successful event of this art exhibition, Fatima may have known that kinder souls are found amidst of so much hatred around the world and so did the other characters evolve in some way or other way.

In a nutshell, the story is beguiling yet poignant that will compel the readers by keeping them rooted till the very last page.

Verdict: A promising and captivating story of hope.

Courtesy: Thanks to the publishers from Harper Collins India for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. 

Author Info:
Nada Awar Jarrar was born in Lebanon to an Australian mother and a Lebanese father. She has lived in London, Paris, Sydney and Washington DC and is currently based in Beirut where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, The Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and Lebanon's English language newspaper, The Daily Star. Her first novel, Somewhere, Home won the Commonwealth Best First Book award for Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
Visit her here 

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