Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Publisher: Israel Bookshop Publications
Genre: Historical Jewish YA
In Damascus, Syria, in the 1970s, Sophia wants nothing more than to escape Syria and live freely. When two girls Sophia knows are discovered escaping and are killed, and their parents are apprehended and tortured, Sophia knows the risks, but she is still determined to make it to the Aretz (Israel). Her parents want her to think about marriage, but she knows that marriage will tie her down and eliminate any hope she has of escaping. Meanwhile, the Jews find out that a "sleeper," a spy from the Mukhabarat, has been placed in their community and is informing the police of any escape plans. Then, Sophia is introduced to Matlub, a man she would consider marrying. When he disappears without an explanation, she is mystified and very hurt, but soon forgets about it when she discovers who the sleeper is. Soon after, an opportunity to escape without causing harm to her family comes up and she grabs the chance - meeting up with someone she thought she'd never see again.
Sophia is a full, three-dimensional character. I felt like I got to know her very well, and I liked her! She's a bit headstrong, but she's intelligent and strong-willed, and she's really just a normal girl living in hard circumstances. Her decisions and desires may be specific to her situation, but really, she reacts like any girl you know to the obstacles and crossroads in her life.
The history of the book is also very vivid. I actually felt sort of sandy at times during the book! It's obvious that the author knows this time period very well, about what Jewish life in Syria was like, down to the fact that Jews were not allowed to have telephones. The dating and matchmaking rituals also sound authentic, and it was very interesting to see how much choice a girl had there. I always thought that in Syrian communities, matches are set up, and the girl just married whomever she was told to, but their dating system sounds very similar to shidduch dating here in America nowadays! OK, so they didn't go to hotels, but they had dates and conversation to determine if they were compatible as husband and wife.
The plot is very well constructed. There are layers to it, and plenty of surprising twists and turns, not focusing only on her escape but on her life as well. I liked the style of the book - sort of like a fifteen-year-old girl talking. A bit simplistic at times, but on the whole, a nice, easy read.
(Musawi, by the way, means follower of Moses. I like how the Syrians use it as a derogatory term, but the Jews use it as a symbol of pride.)