Book Review: The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice

 Author Amy Logan’s tragic yet inspiring novel begins with an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv, Israel. The central character, referred to as Fareby, is an American journalist from Riverside, California who travels to Tel Aviv to cover a story. She meets a young Druze woman, named Leila Azzam, in which a kind of friendship develops. Leila is not Muslim, Christian or Jewish but belongs to an Arabic-speaking minority that is isolated and extremely religious. Like many Middle Eastern customs, the Druze beliefs place severe limits on how women can behave. In this community if a woman is accused of bringing shame upon the family name she can be killed; sometimes by her own family. The practice is known as an honor killing.

In her book, Logan illustrates that this tradition has existed for thousands of years and can occur with little or no warning to its victims. A woman can be executed for being raped, losing her virginity prior to marriage or by refusing to accept an arranged marriage; generally, any kind of behavior which the family or community deems inappropriate. However, Leila is not the typical Druze woman. She refuses to abide by the restrictions placed upon her life. She is incredibly intelligent and resourceful. So much so, that her parents allow her to attend The University of Haifa on a full scholarship. In addition to this, Leila has an American boyfriend. She is a painter and sells her paintings in a gallery. She also owns a cell phone. All of the above behaviors are considered to be immoral according to Druze custom and serve as grounds for her execution. Ultimately, Leila’s attempts to keep her life away from home a secret; are in vain. She is later murdered. Utterly devastated, Fareby begins the arduous journey to find Leila’s killer. In doing so she is forced to deal with her own demons, her relationship to her work and to the country itself.

The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice is a thorough, contemplative book that forces it’s readers to look at the Middle East with a broader lens. The quarrelsome, habitually violent relationship between Palestinians and Jews has long been slathered across American media, but Logan’s writing not only raises awareness about an issue that is seldom discussed. She humanizes it in a way that encourages us to use more than intellect or politics when considering the plight of women in other cultures. She urges us to remember our hearts.

By Rebecca Nichloson

Book Review: The Last Day in Karachi, Through the Ring of Fire

Author Dr. Khan-Hudson’s catharsis inspired novel illuminates key aspects of her early life in Qatar, Pakistan, her ultimate relocation to America and the joy of finding love in her American husband, Rob. The story begins with vivid imagery from Hudson’s past and the first chapter instantly evokes empathy in the reader. The tale’s protagonist, Saha Noor, comes from a uniquely humanistic Muslim family, who, though still somewhat devout, abide by a set of regiments, which they themselves have created.

Far from the usual happenings within her community, her parents have no desire for her to adhere to the restrictions presented by her religious beliefs. Instead, they encourage, if not demand, that she obtains an education. With their constant urging, she manages to get admitted to, and graduates from, a prestigious medical school in her homeland. Her parents, pleased with her accomplishments, readily assume that she will be more than happy to comply with their next expectation: an arranged marriage.

Although she loves her parents and wants desperately to appease them, Saha cannot bear the thought of marrying a man she doesn’t love. Emotionally conflicted by her affection for her parents and her own individualism, she seeks the assistance of her beloved Grandmother. This is a dramatic turning point of the story. The unthinkable happens, an untimely event that changes her life forever. In an incredibly brutal and spontaneous attack, both her grandparents are murdered. Utterly devastated and helplessly trying to come to terms with the tragedy, she makes the decision to leave Pakistan for a new life in the United States. With the novel’s progression, she obtains a greater sense of self. She gains insight into the political upheavals and ongoing violence in her country. She also starts to realize that although there are many pronounced differences between western and eastern societies, there are also many similarities. Good writing and a good read.

By Rebecca Nichloson

Book Review: Day Clean by E.R Dinsmore

Author E.R Dinsmore’s lengthy novel takes place in Beaufort, South Carolina, a small town with a vivid and vicarious social atmosphere, hidden under the veneer of the mundane. The story begins with its central character, Jonah Ezekiel, fleeing from his abusive foster parents and briefly finding refuge in the woods. Jonah, a vivacious young Gullah boy, has suffered many years of abuse and neglect. However, not long after his momentary escape, the boy is kindly taken in by three quirky, tough and consistently interesting characters: Coral Peters, Jack Claybourne and Jadah Blue Jimysee. Coral is a social worker with a teenage daughter named Hannah. Hannah, just as vivacious as Jonah, finds a kind of solace in him as she struggles to come to terms with her father’s untimely death. The fact that Jadah is a child psychologist is a little ironic; considering she scarcely has the resources to handle her own emotional issues. From the very start these characters, each with good intentions, seem ill-equipped to provide a stable home for the young Jonah, though they may provide better care than he received at his previous residence.

As the novel progresses, an additional element, other than the domestic backdrop, begins to emerge. A mystery involving an entangled web of secrets, and possibly murder, changes the course of each characters journey. To further complicate matters, Jonah’s new family believes that his life might be in danger, a notion that forces them to take an action, the consequences of which will alter their lives forever. Eventually, Jonah’s family find themselves up against the “powers that be” of Beaufort, at the center of which is Eugenia Sams. Notorious for their heartlessness, Eugenia and her son are overtly cut from the same cloth and exert authority over the town. A war between the two families commences, leaving no character unscathed.

Day Clean is a story that is always redefining the concept of love, and the notion of what the building blocks of “family” really are. The novel is also a mystery of sorts, and touches on cultural issues, but never ceases to emphasize the universal aspects of the human experience. With that being said, the book is a bit long: sixty-one chapters. Also, her writing style, which is often very colloquial and rhythmic, sometimes feels as though it should be spoken rather than read. Her characters also speak with heavy dialects, which can be a little disorienting for readers who are used to more traditional styles of writing.

By Rebecca Nichloson

Book Review: Margaret Sisu’s The Nude

Author Margaret Sisu’s lean yet bold novel, begins with Gwen Mason, an avid art buyer, attempting to purchase a painting by an up and coming Miami artist. The painting, titled “The Champion”, is the recent work of Adam Straker, owner of Gaya Art Collective, a gallery where he showcases his work. From their very first meeting, it is “intrigue at first sight”. Gwen is immediately infatuated with Adam’s boy next door looks, even though he is several years older.

At first glance, it appears that they are “a match made in heaven.” Adam is an unattached painter who has traveled all round the world perfecting his craft. Gwen is an avid collector of art and exhibits the works of various artists at her own studio with the help of Sherrie, her feisty assistant. Gwen’s life is seemingly uneventful. She shares a condo with her mother, who has recently entered the dating scene. Gwen’s father, once a famous painter, left when she was very young.

Adam and Gwen, inevitably begin a relationship. All is well until Gwen begins to take an interest in a nude painting hidden in Adam’s apartment. Adam refuses to sell or discuss the painting and becomes uneasy whenever she brings it up. Also, she continues to have unsettling memories about her father’s departure, which was rather abrupt. Against Adam’s wishes, the painting is revealed to the public who view it as a modern masterpiece.

The national attention causes both of their careers to accelerate unexpectedly until suddenly they find themselves at the center of the high-end art world. Gwen starts to realize that there is a bizarre connection between the painting, her relationship with Adam and her father’s departure. As the story progresses, a plethora of secrets, lies and cover-ups are revealed in a way no reader could ever see coming. 

The Nude is a brief demonstration of the intense catharsis that follows the unleashing of secrets, no matter how horrible they may be. It is a story of how strong the bonds of love and family can be, in the face of lies and attempts to hide the truth. Although some chapters in Sisu’s novel are ambiguous, she has a unique sense of pacing and creates dialogue that is compelling and rhythmic. Her book is moderately esoteric, the hallmark of all good writing. She keeps her readers guessing until the very end.

by Rebecca Nichloson