• E. A. Fournier

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and storytelling of LET'S GO SWIMMING ON DOOMSDAY. Ms. Anderson has an ear for cadence and a fine sense for apt descriptions within her lean style. She places you inside a sixteen-year-old Somalia boy floating beneath the sparkling ocean right at the start, and you’re immediately comfortable. At first, I was put off by her jumbled timelines but everything worked out in the end. I may have chosen differently but every author is allowed to tell their story in their own way.

Abdi, the main character, who is caught between numerous contradictory sides, is attractive and compelling. He is flawed and often at a loss but he is ever insightful, charming and understandable. Part of what I enjoyed about Abdi was that his solutions for his dilemmas were always suited to his age and experience; by that I mean, they were seldom the finest, but he worked tirelessly with them anyway.

The flavors of the local culture, foods and languages, and the messy political realities of daily life in modern Somalia and neighboring Kenya, were great strengths in the book. Ms. Anderson does an admirable job of submerging you into the local life and dangers of today’s Mogadishu. At the same time, she stays painfully true to the irritations and fears, awkward social skills and indecisions of an actual sixteen-year-old fugitive at the crossroads of his life. In other words, Abdi is always Abdi and never some author’s construct.

The story keeps the readers on their toes as it takes many twists and turns before finally resolving itself. The book is gritty and doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable darkness of extremism or the amorality of foreign entanglements. Lives are disrupted, innocents abused and families destroyed. People die. The novel is by no means an easy read, but I think it is a work well worth your time.


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  • E. A. Fournier

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

The best part of A HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS is its gorgeous cover art. Like the fabled Arabian Nights, the image promises hopeful revelations ahead. As it turns out, the cover is a fantasy that the women of Afghanistan can only imagine. They dream of sitting in the sunlight of an open society, but that vision has not been realized in a thousand and one nights, nor in a thousand years, nor is it ever likely to happen.

Over and over again, as I read, I put the book aside because of the emotional weight of the evil it unveiled. Set in modern day Afghanistan, Zeba, the main character and mother of four, is found covered in her husband’s blood with his murdered body sprawled at her feet. Narrowly escaping instant execution by her neighbors and later by a male relative, she is charged with murder and taken away. Her children are farmed out to in-laws while she is imprisoned to await her certain and fatal justice.

The mission of the story is to reveal what actually transpired and to expose the frightfully ill-equipped legal/religious system’s ability to deliver anything remotely akin to true justice.

Ms. Hashimi’s skills at placing the reader into the scenes and fashioning interesting characters are first rate. However, the realities of Zeba’s former village life, and the day-to-day plights endured by the Afghan women she meets are so relentlessly dark and despicable, that reading about them, page after page, became a burden. I knew the story was getting too dark for me when the time that Zeba spent confined in the women’s prison read like a paradise.

The Islamic republic that Ms. Hashimi portrays (and I have no reason to doubt her accuracy) is a human rights horror show with medieval notions of honor enforced by religious absolutism. To be sure, males have the upper hand, but the women and children are not alone in this house without windows; the men are trapped here, too.

What I found curious was that none of the women in the book retain any internal regard for Allah or Islam—including Zeba. Their religion holds nothing for them. They all avidly adopt black magic practices and seek charms and potions, anything to exert some small control over their precarious futures. On the men’s side, religion is an advantage and a tool of oppression but it seems to be only a loud external show, quietly tossed aside in private.

Ms. Hashimi struggles in her long book to bring some few glimmers of light into A HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS. Sadly, for me, even Zeba’s selfless victory seems but a lit match in a sealed mine. It won’t matter. It is not a harbinger of good things to come; it’s a measurement of the depth of the darkness. There is no way to fix things here—not by Zeba and not by do-gooders from the west. What real hope there may be is hard for this reader to imagine.

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  • E. A. Fournier

I thoroughly enjoyed the historical fiction work, REIVER by David Pilling. The setting is the Anglo-Scottish border in 1570. This is the tumultuous period early in the reign of Elizabeth Tudor when the supporters of Catholic Mary Stewart were actively hatching plots and gathering armies to overthrow her.

Mr. Pilling paints a fascinating picture of life for the villagers, farmers and reivers in the brutal border area. The inhabitants struggled to survive while forces beyond their control strove for dominance. The writing is excellent. His descriptions are at once haunting and grim but not without a stark beauty, as well. The dialogue is first rate and has just the right level of local color to feel authentic. I enjoyed his attention to detail with his characters’ clothes and weapons, the horses’ rigging, the weather and the utter misery of living outdoors. The people of the time display attitudes toward life and death, justice and fairness that rattle and shake our modern minds. I find it so refreshing to read a period novel that is true to the period.

I really loved the book. The main character, Richie Reade, is caught in a grinder of petty raids, political upheaval, blood feuds and just plain bad luck. Mr. Pilling manages to do more than recite historical happenings, he forces you live them with Richie as he strives to fashion a sensible life in a turbulent time. History has never been so graphic and tactile, so approachable and yet frustrating.

I admire the author’s ability to bring the times to life, to populate it with memorable characters as well as historical figures, and still make the whole enterprise a fast page-turning experience. I highly recommend the book.

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