The Wrong End of the Telescope

Grove. Sept. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780802157805. $27. F
A Lebanese doctor living in the United States journeys to the Greek island of Lesbos to help out in a refugee camp at the behest of her friend Emma. Mina Simpson, a trans woman, has long been estranged from her family (with the exception of her brother Mazen) and her homeland—the trip to Lesbos is the closest she has been to Lebanon in 30 years. Given the resonance of her experience, Mina goes to the camps not only to help others but also to heal something personal. Mina feels unequal to the scope of what she encounters until she meets Syrian refugee Sumaiya, her husband Sammy, and their children. Sumaiya has liver cancer, and Mina attempts to find her whatever help and comfort she can in a place where little of either exists and to get the family to Athens, where Sumaiya can get better care.
VERDICT The great strength of this latest novel from National Book Award finalist Alameddine (An Unnecessary Woman) lies in how it deftly combines the biographical with the historical; the small, more personal moments often carry the most weight. A remarkable, surprisingly intimate tale of human connection in the midst of disaster.
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