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Dana K Haffar

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Beirut in Shades of Grey
by Dana K Haffar   

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Publisher:  Ameera Publishing ISBN-10:  0971545170 Type: 


Copyright:  2007 ISBN-13:  9780971545175

Two souls brought together by love are distanced by the challenges of living with conflicting social values during times of extreme political stress. Rasha Halwani, a victim of the Lebanese civil war, and Luke Elliott, a British photojournalist, begin a clandestine romance while on vacation in Paris. However, the tranquility of their previous encounters quickly dissipates when Luke’s unannounced arrival on Rasha’s doorstep in Beirut incites a wrangle over cultural differences and polarized attitudes towards war. Once certain of her values and her role as a woman in late 20th-century Islamic society, Rasha finds herself stymied by the choices before her and the ramifications of pursuing a life with this Westerner.


Professional Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Lebanon-native Mills's first novel, 25-year-old Rasha Halwani, daughter of a conservative Muslim family in war-torn 1981 Beirut, suffers through a joyless, stressful life in too-close proximity to the ongoing civil war. She takes a summer vacation to Paris from her job teaching English, and finds herself, within the span of 10 days, falling in love with Reuters photojournalist Luke Elliot. Luke is as rootless as Rasha is connected to her deeply traditional mother and father. So when Luke shows up unannounced at Rasha's door just after the conclusion of an Israeli incursion, Rasha's father immediately and correctly suspects the worst. Consorting with Westerners can also bring unwanted attention in sectarian Beirut, and Rasha's father forbids her from doing anything that would disgrace or endanger the family. She tries to abide by his command, until Luke, out of sheer callow imprudence, makes it impossible. The love story itself is lightweight and conventional, but the smaller intervening scenes-abrupt peril in a taxi; boredom waiting for a bombardment to end; anxiety and paranoia in any public place at all-make this a vivid portrait of a country in turmoil.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Middle East remains in the headlines and one way to gain some insight is through the works of authors who are intimately familiar with it. Dana Kamal Mills is a first-time novelist who has written Beirut in Shades of Gray ($13.95, Ameera Publishing, Redondo Beach, CA, softcover) in which 25-year-old Rasha finds herself caught in the horrors of the Lebanese civil war in 1981. Raised in a conservative Muslim family, she is forced to conceal her short affair with Luke Elliott, an English photojournalist whom she met and fell in love with during a brief visit to Paris. That holiday romance suddenly shows up at her door in Beirut and his timing could not be worse. Hostilities are everywhere and her religion increases the risk. Then one day, Luke goes missing. This is a many-layered story mixing culture and love. The author was raised in Beirut. During the civil war she obtained a degree in English literature, later earning a Masters at the University of Oxford in England. Events in the Middle East assume a human form through this novel and it is worth reading for both its beautifully told story and for the insights it provides as well.
Rasha is a young Lebanese woman in her mid 20s living in Beirut in 1981. Her country isn't the same place she knew in her youth; happy memories are now overshadowed with the everyday struggles that happen in a war-torn country. It's the height of the Lebanese civil war, and things like power outages, civilian deaths, road blocks and militia are just something everyone has to cope with now.

Visiting an aunt in Paris to escape and heal from a traumatic event, Rasha meets a photojournalist named Luke, who is both Christian and English. What starts as innocent conversation at a dinner party soon melds into a whirlwind romance. When Rasha returns to Lebanon and her family, she returns in love with Luke and involved in what seems to be an impossible relationship.

Growing up in a conservative and traditional Muslim family, Rasha had a very structured and rigid upbringing. Everyone in her family has definitive roles and Rasha has never questioned that, or has never wanted to; it's all she knows. Disobeying her family is something she has never considered, but when Luke comes to Beirut for Rasha, it causes all sorts of issues in Rasha's home life -- but when he goes missing, the issues escalate.

Rasha is a character who is nearly impossible for me to relate to, yet I still found myself enjoying her. Rasha is so far from the woman I am and her life is so different than the life I know, that in reality I should have been lost in this book, but I wasn't. Author Dana Kamal Mills did a superb job of spending as much time educating me as she did entertaining me.

Rasha and Luke's romantic story is only enhanced by the troubles in Beirut and the internal struggles Rasha faces because of her upbringing and Muslim faith. Rasha acts more like a teenager involved in a first love than a woman in an adult relationship. It speaks volumes and is a bit sad to me that someone could be so aware, mature, intelligent and even casual about matters of war and destruction, yet be so immature and lost in matters of the heart ... but that only added to the genuine feel of this story.

Beirut in Shades of Grey is an insightful and sometimes terrifying glimpse into the life of one woman; it humbled this reader, while at the same time providing a gripping read. There is no doubt Mills is a gifted storyteller.

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