Monday, January 16, 2012

“Olives” -- the book variety that is

The very mention of olives can make me drool. Black ones, green ones and especially those from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. They are the best. And the closest I got to them while living in the UK where jars of little black olives from Nice, France.

But this is not a post about the eatable kind, but Olives by Alexander McNabb, the self-published novel that has just hit the bookstores.

I felt esteemed and privileged, when my author friend Alexander McNabb emailed me a PDF of Olives to read.

We had just spent an amazing day together in Beirut. I joined him on a trip and for lunch in Shemlan where he was researching his next release, Beirut. We spoke a lot about both books but I wasn’t expecting to get an advance copy. We were joined later that night in June by our friend Naeema Zarif, the very talented Lebanese graphic artist who created the Olives cover.

I was reluctant to start reading Olives. Books are very personal and one of the most important aspects of daily life to me. I read profusely for my own pleasure and enlightenment. To give an opinion to an author was going to be challenging and embarrassing. Also reading a “foreigner’s” take on contemporary events in the region is usually something I try to avoid.

But, I did start reading Olives and gave up three precious nights out in Beirut to finish it. In daytime, I often found myself looking forward to the evening’s reading. To my mind, that says a lot about a book.

Yes, Alexander is a foreigner. But he is a foreigner who after working and living in the Middle East for over 25 years has made the effort to integrate with the people of the region, learn their customs and traditions, some of the language and a lot of the mannerisms.

I started reading Olive, set in Jordan and Palestine, with my copywriter hat on. I forgot about it after about 30 pages, as I got engrossed in the novel.

Olives author Alexander McNabb
I have met so many men like Paul Stokes and fallen in love with quite a few, as you do with the main journalist character of the thriller. They are mostly out of their depth in the turbulent waters of the Middle East and often not to be trusted.  Middle Easterners love conspiracy theories. So the spying part in Olives falls right into the mold. For us, every foreigner is a “spy suspect.” It is also easy to recognize yourself in Aisha Dajani and her extended family.

Olives makes for compulsive reading as you get taken in by the romance, and by Alex’s tackling of the more serious themes, including the fight for the region’s water resources, the effects of Israel’s construction of the “security wall,” Palestine, and Jordan.

The politics are so well mixed with the romance that the narrative could be taking place in any trouble spot and usually does. The characters – the English girlfriend, the embassy representative, the Swede -- are all well placed and credible.

The ending might shock some, but it is Olives – A Violent Romance. I found it very credible as I have had such an ending in my life and know a lot of other people who have. It is the kind of ending that affects hundreds of people every single day in the quick sands of the region.

What I didn’t know when I read the PDF version is that the book starts with a quote by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Any “foreign” author who can do that is surely worth a read.

Thanks Alex for the kind words
Another surprise in the hardcopy is the “Thanks” page at the end of Olives where my name is mentioned. I’ve finally made it into a book! That blew me away and brought about a few tears.

Thanks Alex and I can’t wait to read Beirut.

Related reading:
Alexander McNabb’s blog Fake Plastic Souks
The Olives website