Monday, March 9, 2015

Staff Picks - No Place Strange by Diana Fitzgerald Bryden

No Place Strange is poet Diana Fitzgerald Bryden's first novel. Though primarily a love story, is it also a suspenseful story about war, family and human connections that can be both life-long and fleeting.

The novel is primarily set in the 1980's when two relative innocents, Lydia, an English-Canadian-Jew and Farid, Lebanese, meet in Greece. Both are seeking escape. Lydia's father was a journalist who was killed in a rocket attack in Beirut. Speculation about his involvement with suspected terrorist Rafa Ahmed shattered his family. Farid was seeking solace from war-torn Beirut. Unbeknown to them was their connection through Farid's uncle who was Lydia's father's translator. The uncle was also killed in the attack and Mouna, Farid's cousin, blamed the journalist.

In the manner of holiday romances Lydia and Farid's affair was sudden and intense. Focused on love and pleasure they do not get around to sharing their stories and, in the way of travelers, find themselves suddenly separated. Lydia makes desperate attempts to find him, wending her way through international operators and foreign languages. (It was the 80's folks, staying connected was challenging, no Facebook or Twitter.) She thought he had tired of her and it was over, but their past and future connections would prove far too strong.

The back story is tightly compressed in the first twenty or so pages giving the hint that this will be a war-based suspense novel, but the strength of the story is the love affair. It is told from four points of view (Lydia, Farid, Mouna and Miriam - Farid's mother) giving the reader an all encompassing perspective. The female voices are especially strong, but I would have like to hear more from Farid. His relative silence made his intentions and reactions less transparent. Perhaps this was intentional to add to the suspense. Overall a lovely story, with a satisfying ending.

The subject matter and the poet's voice brought to mind the novels of Anne Michaels. Bryden's prose is a bit more spare than Michaels'. Bryden keeps a complicated story under tight control.

Sometimes it is a small part of the plot or a side story that will stay with you. In this instance it is the story of Nasima, Mouna's sister. Nasima, though a young woman, is a perpetual child. Nasima was raised by a mentally ill mother in a war torn country. She herself was the victim of a terrorist attack that left her wounded and her mother dead. She comes to Canada a scarred and traumatized girl. This reflection on the effect of prolonged war on children made me think of the movie Life Is Beautiful in which a Jewish father protects his small son from the knowledge that they have been interred in a concentration camp.

No Place Strange has been nominated for the First Novel Award (Amazon) along with:
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant;

Diary of Interrupted Days by Dragan Todorovic;
Daniel O'Thunder by Ian Weir and
The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon.

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