Back to Lebanon – to family, love and war…
It is the summer of 2006, and nineteen-year-old London music student, Layla, returns home for the holidays to a now peaceful Lebanon. When she arrives, though, she finds that her troubled younger brother has gone missing. “Borrowing” her father’s car, she heads to Beirut to search for him, meeting a variety of people along the way. But her quest is cut short when, without warning, Beirut comes under heavy artillery fire. A new war has begun, and now she is trapped in the middle of it.
A young woman returns home to Lebanon for the summer holiday. It has been three years since she was last hear, since she was last with her family. The last three years have been filled with music, study and work in London. She is a student pianist at the Royal Academy of Music. With some trepidation she is looking forward to seeing her family again. Her mother, father and brother Ziad.
Firstly, however, she lands in Beirut and goes straight to her friends wedding reception. Here she realises that she is now quite different from her friends who remained in the Lebanon. She stays long enough to enjoy the hospitality of her hosts and catch up with the bride. Then she is off out of Beirut to the mountains and home.
How things have changed continues to come to light through the taxi journey into the mountains and then at home. There is a tension between her parents. Her brother is not at home having gone out with friends. She wonders why he wouldn’t be at home for her arrival.
It seems Ziad is staying with one of his friends overnight but, when he still doesn’t return home the next morning and, seeing how worried her mother is, Layla goes off to Beirut to find him. She picks up a stray dog as she leaves.
Ziads whereabouts becomes quite the mystery once she get’s to his friend Jaques home. He not there. Jacque’s brother Joe offers to go with Layla to some places his brother thinks Ziad may be.
From the wedding through Layla’s return to her home and her search for Ziad we are shown a world that I have never been to and really don’t know very much about. So I found Layla’s thoughts and the descriptions in the book of Beirut and her home very interesting.
Like anyone who leaves their home and returns after some time they are bound to feel a mix of emotions. So for Layla, who has been away for three years studying music in London, it is no different.
This is, however, a part of the world that has seen so much conflict and war. Lebanon is currently peaceful but as Layla searches for Ziad serious issues are being played out and south Beirut comes under heavy attack by Israel after three Israeli soldiers are taken.
Layla’s search is a mix of mystery, romance, war and family all in one story. Nathalie Abi-Ezzi takes this mix and presents you with a tender, heart wrenching story that will assault your senses and emotions as you move from the joy of returning home, finding new love, feeling the strong ties of family to the terror and pain of war.
It is all of these things that bring Layla a deeper understanding and appreciation of her family, her country but most of all, perhaps, of herself and what she really wants from life.
There are stories within the story, of Dog; of Najat; of Azim and his family. Stories of loyalty, of kindness and hospitality between strangers. Of Ziad, of childhood memories. Of Ziad, of disability. How differently people with a disability are treated and how that has affected Ziad throughout his life. Of her parents, of Ziad, of Joe, of love and heartbreak.
For me it is a story of how all those decisions that are made by you, by your family, by friends – old and new – and strangers shape your world, your life and, when brought together with an event that is the pivot that shows you what is most important, brings a clarity and understanding of what you have and need to fully live.
This is a wonderful book and one which I would certainly recommend as well worth reading.
My thanks to Emma at DamppebblesTours for the invite to this lovely BlogTour and to Holland House Books for a paperback copy of this gorgeous book.
It’s well worth a spin around the rest of the Paper Sparrows BlogTour, enjoy…
Published by: Holland House Books
Published: 5th March 2020 (Paperback & Digital)
Nathalie Abi-Ezzi was born in Beirut and has lived in Lebanon, Austria and the UK. It was whilst working on her PhD in English Literature at King’s College London that she realised that she wanted to write her own novels rather than just analyse other people’s. So, while working variously as an editor, teacher and tutor, she wrote and published several prize-winning short stories and her first novel, A Girl Made of Dust (4th Estate, 2008), which was short-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and was winner of the LiBeraturpreis in 2011.
She has, for better or worse, always been given to utterly pointless yet entirely joyful activities like playing music, drawing, painting, reading, and going on long walks. She has a particular interest in animal welfare, and has volunteered at shelters and rescue centres for many years. She always has a rescue dog by her side while writing, which is perhaps why animals invariably find their way into her work …
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