Fencing with the King

Norton. Mar. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780393867718. $26.95.
In this latest from the multi-award-winning Abu-Jaber (Birds of Paradise), young American poet Amani is struggling with both her career and her marriage when her father, Gabe, is invited by his royal-adviser brother Hafez to return to his homeland, Jordan, and fence with the king during the celebrations surrounding the king’s 60th birthday in 1995. (Gabe had fenced with the king in his youth, as did Abu-Jaber’s father.) Gabe has no interest in returning to a place he left decades ago, but when Amani discovers a poem-like missive tucked into one of his old books, she is determined to have them both travel to Jordan so that she can investigate the mystery of the letter and her family background. Unfortunately, Amani’s uncle Hafez is deviously ambitious—not just politically but within the family; he covets a precious heirloom in Gabe’s possession and, readers eventually learn, committed a shocking act in his youth to secure his familial position. As Amani slowly uncovers these and other secrets, she must ask herself where she belongs, what it means to come from anywhere, and how to balance the importance of the past with the promise of the future.
VERDICT A resonant and pointedly perceptive story about family, Middle East history, and creating new narratives, whether as individuals or nations.
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