A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi

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A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A subtle story of the civilian experience of war, as told through the eyes of a child. It's as evocative of family life as it is of conflict, but its real value is in bringing home that real people are living - or trying to live - behind the news headlines we see.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 0007259034

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Ruba is ten years old. It's the 1980s and she lives in a village just outside Beirut. She can hear the rumbles of the shelling, and they get worse after the Israelis invade, but Ruba is just a little girl and she's not really interested in war. She's interested in playing with her brother Naji, getting sugared almonds from Ali the nut roaster, watching her mother cook, and persuading her grandmother to tell her stories.

But war doesn't ignore children, and it won't let children ignore it. Ruba's father has wasted into a shadow of the man he once was. War has broken him, and a broken father can break a family. Ruba's mother and grandmother work hard to keep some normality in the children's lives, but when the head of the household can't or won't work, money is always an issue. Naji is hurtling towards adolesence and his distant father propels him in the wrong direction. He's hanging about with older boys and guns.

And all the time, the shelling gets ever nearer.

This is Nathalie Abi-Ezzi's first novel and it's based on personal experience. Her family was forced to flee from Lebanon to Britain in 1983. It's tremendously honest and also tremendously evocative. Sectarianism means little to children, politics even less. And Ruba is a typical child - she's interested in homely things and in her friends. She's more curious about family secrets than she is about the causes of the conflict through which she's living. Her speculations about her father's breakdown are all about an old lady in the village with dementia. Ruba thinks she must be a witch who has cursed her father and this is such an obvious childish reaction to events beyond comprehension, you'd have to smile if it wasn't so horribly, horribly sad.

The child narrator gives Abi-Ezzi the chance to describe daily life in Lebanon and she does so with gusto - food, clothes, pastimes, family structure; they all rise from the pages giving a vivid glimpse into not only another culture, but also how it is to live through uncertain times and conflict.

The style is simple - chatty and straightforward - allowing a child's naivety to offer the kind of insights missing from the news reports we see about war. And its theme, ultimately, is that age-old maxim: home is where the heart is.

My thanks to the nice people at Fourth Estate for sending the book.

Those interested in how life goes on in conflict zones should read Palestinian Walks: Notes from a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh.

Buy A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi at Amazon.co.uk

Buy A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi at Amazon.com.


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