In this elegant, incisive debut, a young girl comes of age while aching for a sense of belonging. Daughter of an Iraqi father and an English mother, the unnamed narrator struggles with isolation both in the traditional Iraqi countryside where she’s raised and at the Western school of music and ballet that her mother insists she attend. Though she finds some semblance of solace in dance, her trials increase when her family moves to Baghdad. Then comes the outbreak of war, which compels her to move with her mother to England, where her most pointed heartaches await. Gently poetic but emotionally unflinching, A Sky So Close is a daringly fresh look into the clash between East and West and into the soul of a woman formed by two cultures yet fully accepted by neither.
A young Middle Eastern woman's embattled-and elongated-coming of age, in a gracefully written if rather tepid first novel set in rural Iraq, Baghdad, and England. An unnamed narrator relates in a curiously affectless voice the details of her childhood years, spent bonding furtively with a neighboring farm girl and her sprawling family, over the objections of the narrator's Iraqi father, a well-to-do "trader in food flavorings," and especially her English mother, who's determined to impose upon her daughter the standards of Western culture. The early pages present a series of contrasts between the narrator's incompatible parents, who disagree-often violently-over personal hygiene, diet, a woman's right to work outside the home, and numerous other issues. A partial escape from their bickering is provided by ballet lessons; particularly by the florid presence of the narrator's demonstrative instructor "Madame" and several members of the latter's circle, including a sculptor named Saleem, ten years older than the narrator, who romances her efficiently, but is soon spirited away to fight in the border war with Iran. The family's move to the busy metropolis of Baghdad is followed by the father's untimely death, then her mother's ordeal with breast cancer, for which she seeks treatment in England. The story ends there, some 30 years after its beginning, with the narrator twice bereaved, now employed as a translator, and of necessity estranged from both the man she loves and her homeland. Individual particulars aside, this is an awfully familiar tale, which often feels summarized rather than told, and is almost devoid of emotional resonance until its very late scenes, when the sufferings of thenarrator's mother are made graphic, painful, and genuinely involving. And matters aren't helped by a leaden translation that frequently makes Khedairi's dialogue ring false (" ... this is the twentieth century; the weapons of modern warfare have reached their peak in causing death!," etc.). Disappointing.