Dana Kamal Mills,
Beirut in Shades of Grey
(Ameera, 2007)

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.

review by
Cherise Everhard

17 May 2008

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