Both these new novels are about faraway people. ‘Welcome to Paradise’ is about North African would-be emigrants waiting through the night on a Moroccan beach for the moment their trafficker decides it is safe to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. ‘The Broken Cedar’ is about the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on everyday Lebanese life in 1994, before the Israelis leave Lebanon, and an act of horrifying violence this gives rise to in the past of Khalil, who is an electrical shopkeeper catering to the needs of United Nations troops on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
In ‘Welcome to Paradise’, Mahi Binebine, a Moroccan writer, deals very compassionately with each one of the disparate group of emigrants, covering their life stories in their different North African countries and the reasons they seek to emigrate, and describing the dreams of each as they wait to cross the fifteen kilometres of water separating them from paradise.
A lingering worry for them is the presence among them of a young mother with her newborn babe who might betray their presence by crying. The efforts to circumvent this brings out the protective urge in one of the emigrants, and a gentle and moving love story is woven out of this. The sympathetic way each person’s desperation and dreams are handled and the final and unexpected denouement make this a beautiful book to read and enjoy in order to gain a deeper understanding of the urge to migrate.
‘The Broken Cedar’ is also an absorbing work. The crisis of conscience suffered by the dying Khalil evolves slowly out of the relations Khalil has with his multinational United Nations customers. He was a participant in the drama that the story is about, but hid the strange truth for 15 years, and is now faced with having to divulge it. The build-up of the drama occurring hand in hand with Khalil’s developing illness, and his complicated psychological attitude towards all the personal and circumstantial influences affecting him, is masterful. It is difficult to put the book down as the climax is reached right at the very end of the story.
Both these books are well worth reading.
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