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Keeping it real
by Ron Charles January 11, 2019
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When Nuruddin Farah writes fiction about the ravages of terrorism, the details may be imaginary but the scars are real. The celebrated Somali novelist, a frequent contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, lost his sister Basra Farah Hassan in 2014. A nutritionist working for UNICEF, she was murdered, along with at least 20 others, when the Taliban bombed a restaurant in Kabul.

Farah’s new book, North of Dawn, places its characters far from flying shrapnel but deep in conflicted grief. Like his previous novel, Hiding in Plain Sight, it’s concerned with difficult questions of forgiveness and recovery in the aftermath of violence. The story opens in Oslo, when a Somali diplomat named Mugdi gets word that his only son has blown himself up at the airport in Mogadishu. Mugdi and his wife, Gacalo, suspected their son was radicalised, but news of his death makes it impossible to ignore the truth any longer: They are the parents of a suicide bomber.

Shocked and disgusted, Mugdi wants nothing to do with the memory of his late son. But his wife refuses to relinquish her love for the young man, and she’s determined to keep their parental connection alive by inviting their son’s widow and her two children to Oslo. That invitation, sent on the wings of affection and duty, ensnares Gacalo and Mugdi in a complicated kindness that will alter the rest of their lives.

North of Dawn is a story we rarely hear, a tale concerning the terrorist’s family that takes place in the long shadow of grief, shame and twisted loyalty. It’s also a story pulsing with the adrenaline of our era: a toxic mix of zealotry and xenophobia.

As the novel opens, Mugdi is thrust into the awkward role of welcoming a daughter-in-law poisoned by the same radicalism that turned his son into a killer.

Even before they’ve left the Oslo airport, we can see the clash of secular and religious values that will confound this awkward new family.

North of Dawn is bracingly honest about the difficulties of assimilation, the way hospitality curdles into condescension and gratitude sours into resentment.

The Independent


THE COLLECTOR’S APPRENTICE
by B.A. Shapiro

Art and intrigue make scheming bedfellows in the latest novel by B.A. Shapiro, master of the “historical art thriller.” This time she takes on the 1920s art world as post-Impressionism is taking hold. The shape-shifting Cubists and colour-crazed Fauvists are captivating Paris, and Gertrude Stein presides over soirées with Picasso and Matisse. Into this world steps Vivienne Gregsby, a young woman reeling from a disastrous engagement to a con man who cost her family their fortune and art collection. She appears to catch a break when American tycoon Edwin Bradley hires her to help him assemble an art collection for a museum in Philadelphia. Then her ex-fiancé con artist reappears. George — or is it Benjamin, or Ashton, or Ivan? — wants her back for his next escapade. She wants her family’s collection back — and revenge. Their sparring takes a darker turn when Vivienne’s boss dies in suspicious circumstances.
The plot requires readers to suspend disbelief in key places, but the payoff is a fast-moving, multifaceted battle of wits. Art lovers will savour Shapiro’s sensual descriptions of paintings that bring now legendary masterpieces to life.

NIGHT OF MIRACLES
by Elizabeth Berg

Sometimes you just want a warm bath of a book. Night of Miracles, in which Elizabeth Berg revisits the Midwestern setting of her bestselling The Story of Arthur Truluv, all but serves you a cup of cocoa and tucks you into bed.
Miracles brings back Arthur’s lonely neighbour, Lucille, and Maddy, the young woman he had “adopted.” Newcomers are a rueful divorcee who’s moved from the East Coast for a fresh start; a lovelorn waitress and her would-be suitor, the local cabdriver; and a young family facing a health crisis. All are looking for love, or at least community; and all of course are intertwined in the way a small town dictates. This is not a challenging book; there are no confusing timelines or complex characters or last-minute twists. But there is simple, lovely prose and a sense of yearning that is contagious and comforting.

NINE PERFECT STRANGERS
by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty is back, with a page-turner that’s already set to become another star vehicle for Nicole Kidman. We meet Moriarty’s titular strangers as they arrive at a remote Aussie wellness resort called Tranquillum House, all seeking healing of some kind. The book hops from one perspective to the next: the once-bestselling romance novelist with a broken heart, the married couple whose life was ruined by a lottery win, the family of three that used to be four and is about to go through another painful anniversary. All the while, it becomes increasingly clear that something isn’t quite right at Tranquillum House or with its mysterious owner Masha, even though the smoothies taste delightful. Moriarty manages to poke clever fun without being mean, and she times each reveal well.

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