Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Thousand Veils by D.J. Murphy

I requested this book from the author because the summary sounded so interesting; it wasn't until later that I realized it was a self-published book. On the one hand, I am surprised that Murphy has been unable to find a publisher as he has the bones of a great story and is obviously able to write. On the other hand, the opening pages alone almost convinced me not to read any further- the description of the sandstorm is as clear an example as I've ever read of overwriting. Thankfully, the use of adjectives calms down as the novel progresses and is never again as distracting as in the opening.

The story here is a compelling one- journalist and poet Fatima Shihabi is forced to flee Iraq when Uday Hussein learns she has been writing subversive articles for foreign press outlets. Fatima, whose family connections saved her once before when her writing led to weeks of imprisonment and torture, escapes Iraq through the desert only to end up in the hands of an unfriendly Saudi officer determined to send her back to her tormenters. When she is allowed a final phone call to her brother Omar in New York, he draws in corporate lawyer Charles Sherman whose contacts in Saudi grant Fatima a reprieve.

As Charles tries to work his contacts to get Fatima asylum in the U.S., they meet in France and fall in love. As Fatima's past rapidly catches up with her, she makes the momentous decision to return to her daughter in Iraq, and Charles decides to accompany her. I won't share to any more details so as to avoid spoilers, but it was at this point that I felt the story began to break down.

I felt the love story between Fatima and Charles was an unnecessary complication, and everything that happened after they returned to Iraq was the kind of unrealistic series of events usually only seen on 24. I felt the adventure aspect of the story was forced, and definitely didn't require the day by day chapter breakdowns. I found the book long, and definitely thought the narrative lagged, especially in the philosophical conversations between Charles and Fatima.

In my opinion, Murphy has a strong storyline in this book, and I am surprised he hasn't made a sale to mainstream publisher. Right now the novel is part adventure story, part love story, part condemnation of U.S. immigration policy, part attempt to bridge the gap between Islam and the West. A strong edit that focused the book around one central message would yield a much tighter book that I think would sell well.

I'm giving this one 3 stars- 3.5 for potential, 2.5 for execution.

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