The Cry of the Dove

I finished a book called The Cry of the Dove last night. It managed to be both immensely depressing and incredibly poorly written, all at the same time, which was a bit frustrating. I want to recommend it because I think the subject matter was interesting, but I wouldn’t want to subject you to it when there are so many great books with avians in the title out there like Birds Without Wings, The Sparrow, or even The Kite Runner (ok, so the kite in reference is a toy, not the bird known as a kite, but you get the point).

At any rate, the book is about a Bedouin woman who gets pregnant and has to flee her tribe to save her life, as her tribe believes in honor killings, and obviously having sex before marriage is a very serious stain on family honor. (This bit is on the flap, so it’s not like I’m giving anything away.) Unfortunately, the author chose to use a rather obnoxious narrative style for the book; the scenes jump back and forth in time, which can work well when it’s well done, but it wasn’t well done this time. Instead, I was left in a state of constant confusion about past, present, and future, which was confounded by the confused mental state of one of the characters.

I’ve certainly read some good gimmicky books, like Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, or Hopscotch, so I know that this is a narrative style which can work. When jumpy narratives are crafted with care, they read like pieces of a puzzle slowly slotting into place, and it’s amazing. But I wish that unskilled authors would stop using narratives they think are edgy. I think this book would have read more clearly as a single coherent narrative, although the writing was still very bad. There were a lot of repetitive bits which made me think it had been poorly edited until I realized that they were actually heavy-handed thematic boluses. The author obviously felt passionately about the issues in the book, I just wish her editor had been a bit firmer.

So, given that you know that I think the book was bad, I’m going to go ahead and give away the ending here. If you still have a passionate need to read it even after I’ve trashed it above, you should stop reading this review now.

Basically, the character travels from her hometown to a jail where she is kept in protective custody to a convent in Cyprus to England. (Although it took the author most of the book to unfold this narrative, with as many as three separate timelines running at once.) The book talked about the difficulty of the immigrant experience in England, and the struggles that the character went through as she tried to make it; living in a crappy room with an insane landlady, being underpaid at a tailor’s, trying to go to college to learn better English, and so forth. Throughout the book, the theme of the main character’s infant daughter is pounded into our heads, and we are constantly reminded that the little girl was snatched away at birth.

Finally, she falls in love with her college adviser (hah!), marries him, and has a son. At this point, 16 years have passed since she fled her tribe, and she has been dogged with fear. For those of you who don’t know about honor killings, they are unfortunately common in some parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and as many as 5,000 women are killed every year in the name of honor. This isn’t just a plot device, it’s a harsh reality, and it is very tragic; it has also spread to places like Britain, as immigrants enter a world of clashing cultures.

So, our main character decides that she needs to go back and find her daughter. Everyone suggests that this is a very bad idea, but since she’s being tormented by nightmares about her daughter, she feels driven to find out what happened. She returns to her tribe and encounters her mother, who explains that the daughter was killed, following the logic that the child would turn out like the mother. Our leading lady goes to her daughter’s grave…and is shot by her brother.

It’s really rather irritating that this book wasn’t very good, because immigration issues and the concept of honor killing are both very interesting to me, and I wanted to badly to recommend it. So I’m going to turn the tables here: have you read any great books lately about either of these themes that I should read?