Nuri and Afra are Syrian refugees trying to make their way to England, where Nuri’s cousin, who also fled Syria, awaits them.
They’ve suffered a loss that’s left Afra blind and functionally paralyzed with grief. This grief is like a tangible thing Nuri has to negotiate while at the same time trying to persuade her to leave, and also to keep from her as much as possible the level of danger they’re in by staying.
Their PTSD, despair, and loss of hope have all but incapacitated both of them. She’s become blind and Nuri has lost himself and his connection to reality (“I think I am lost in the darkness,” he writes to his cousin) and in some ways he knows it but is sort of existing in several times and places simultaneously. Some chapters seem to trail off into incomplete sentences, but the following chapter’s title is a word that completes that sentence, and also completes the one that begins the new chapter. The first time this happened, I was annoyed and thought it was kind of a lazy trick, but finally decided it was illustrative of Nuri’s inability to keep his mind from wandering through the past.
I didn’t really like this book at first and almost gave it up but something made me go back and every time I picked it up I’d suddenly realize I’d read 75 pages, completely immersed. The first sentence and reason I picked up the book is “I am scared of my wife’s eyes.” They’ve literally shut down and looking into them, Nuri sees “blank emptiness.” It’s terrifying — I mean, what’s left?
Subtracted stars due to so many references to dressing Afra and wrapping and unwrapping her hijab…she’s not the narrator, I know, but it would have been nice to hear more from her. She’s like a rag doll – and to be fair, she’s more or less become one- but is conveniently lucid from time to time to give Nuri some insight. I’d also like to know more about what drives Mustafa. And finally, it was just generally too choppy and unevenly developed.