Into Suez by Stevie Davies
|Into Suez by Stevie Davies|
|Genre: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Louise Laurie|
|Summary: This is a big book dealing with big issues. Based in the melting pot of the Middle East (just after WWII), British expatriate RAF families try to live their lives and make sense of it all.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: February 2010|
|Publisher: Parthian Books|
We are introduced to the main characters Ailsa and Joe Roberts and their young daughter, Nia. Joe is a down-to-earth Welshman who's been posted to Egypt with the RAF. They are making a new and exciting life for themselves amidst the heat and poverty of the Middle East. Ailsa is English, rather headstrong and clever. Her parents said she'd the brain of a boy. There are two strands to the novel which interweave throughout: the 1950s which see the early married life of Joe and Ailsa and then there's the post-invasion of Iraq period when the grown-up Nia returns to Egypt to lay some ghosts, as it were.
Stevie Davies gives plenty of facts alongside the fictional element. The title, coupled with its front cover looks as if it would be quite at home in the history section of a mainstream bookshop. For this reason, the novel may not have universal appeal. It can also be an uncomfortable book to read, in places. For example, it deals with the prejudices of the British towards the local people, calling them wogs, calling the local area wogtown. Thinking of them collectively as no better than street dogs. Joe is no exception. His hatred of the locals is intense. But his intellectual wife is far more open-minded. She mixes quite happily with the different nationalities as well as the different classes. She is very much a free spirit. At the same time she also acknowledges that the British ... are thugs. We take our thuggery all round the world. And as for all the children, their new country is simply one huge bucket-and-spade playground. In amongst all the flies and the germs and the grinding poverty all around, the Brits, most of them anyway, are happy with their lot. They'd escaped from cold, grey Britain with its post-war austerity and ration books to sun, sand and exotic foods the likes of which they'd never experienced. Almost a continual holiday, a bit of a hoot, a lark is the general feeling.
Davies's descriptions of Egypt are beautifully lyrical. For example, Looking through a wire netting grid at the desert, suffused in pink, the sun at its horizon like blood in a yolk. There is, as you might expect from the title, lots of historical information about the Suez Canal and surroundings areas, of its extreme importance to the British Government during that period - hence our occupation.
There are plenty of examples of the Egyptians hatred of the Brits. Couple that with the Arabic culture where women were (and still are) treated as second class citizens and you can begin to get a flavour of how a young woman from rural Shropshire might feel. Sink or swim? Ailsa chooses to swim and have the time of her life. Joe fares less well.
Whole chunks of history - and of its terrible consequences - are in almost every chapter. Every paragraph is packed with well-thought out prose. There's smatterings of Arabic, German and the lilting Welsh language, almost giving this strong novel, a little light music, breaking up great wedges of dense paragraphs, allowing the reader to pause a little, catch their breath.
If you are brave enough to come out of your comfort zone, then Into Suez will not disappoint.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Heart of the Night by Judith Lennox.
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