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Jemma Wayne – Chains Of Sand

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Current, constant, conflict.

Publisher: Legend Press
Pages: 315
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-785-07972-6
First Published: 1st June 2016
Date Reviewed: 12th September 2016
Rating: 3.5/5

Udi wants to move to England, to join his cousins. Life in Israel does not offer him what he wants. His girlfriend and family may want him to stay but he hopes for more than menial jobs. In England, British Jew, Daniel, wants to move to Israel, seeing it as his destiny and the place he just ought to be. His friendship with Safia will never progress to a relationship because she is Muslim and he feels it would be wrong, and when he meets Orli in Tel Aviv he feels a draw greater than the one he feels towards Safia, and greater than the one he felt towards his old long-term girlfriend. Amidst these stories is that of Kaseem and Dara, a relationship that secretly crosses the border.

Chains Of Sand is a novel set during the here and now of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Taking on the narratives of Jews, Wayne has written a book that has the potential to divide before it brings everything back together for a short time at the end; in looking at the conflict, Wayne writes from a specific viewpoint first and foremost. She details the day-to-day of fighting, of security and the way such security has become par for the course by both necessity and anxiety. She shows the conflict between modernity and tradition, how in theory one might want to dispense with tradition but in reality it’s ingrained within them, sometimes in ways they don’t realise until they do dispense with it. She shows how holding steadfast can result in familial conflict and how not holding steadfast can result in familial conflict. And she shows obvious cultural differences, violence, lazy contentment-filled days, and everything in between. Reading from afar it’s a big reminder of everything that isn’t covered in the news, of the regular life going on behind the conflict, but also the irregularities that are ever apparent and the intolerance – whilst working from one side of the equation she shows the various intolerances as well as liberal views.

So this book is a look at the conflict right where it is happening, as well as a look from afar. It includes direct knowledge, lived knowledge, and rose-tinted glasses. But something is lacking in the overall presentation and it isn’t until much later that it becomes apparent that what’s lacking is emotion (other than thoughts of love, which themselves aren’t always convincing, the context more often lust). There is a divide between reader and character that is down to the way the story has been written and presented; as the end pages draw near this lack disappears and in its place is the emotion that the rest of the book needed, that helps you relate, that gives you a reason to read, that gets rid of the dryness. This is not to say that every thought any character has should be laced with emotion but a subject of this magnitude and current relevance… you gain knowledge of viewpoints and of the working of the war but the characters’ thoughts, when dealing with it, don’t really ask you to think or engage; it can be a struggle to work out what you are supposed to be taking from it as a reader. Is there a message? It seems so, but trying to work out what exactly that is (until the end, which is a bit late and a bit too much, playing catch-up) and even trying to just look at the book as a study is difficult without that authorial invitation to involve yourself in the text.

Some of this is due to the writing. The writing is okay but there are some odd choices of words, odd phrases that jolt you out of the narrative, and a strange way of translating tone and inference that doesn’t match the situation. (As an example, there are various lines of dialogue that end with “…, no?” which when dealing with Israeli characters seems a way to translate how Hebrew compares to English ways of speaking but it’s then used by British Jews when speaking their fluent first language of English.) It’s not a bad style by any means but the lack of flow often means sentences need a couple of re-reads to understand.

Something included that really works is Udi’s background – Udi is an Iraqi Jew whose family moved to Israeli. His presence in the story enables Wayne to study something that doesn’t get much of a look in – racism within – and open up the narrative far beyond stereotypes. There is a section, for example, where Udi and his friends go to a nightclub, but Udi is denied entry because the doorman will not believe he is Jewish rather than an Arab Muslim. This, whilst a different subject, helps set up the short narrative of a cross-cultural relationship wherein Wayne really delves into the variety of opinions in the region, the liberal sides of the equation, whilst harking back to a type of narrative that is tried and true and thus has a firm basis for the reader to start from. This said, some other uses of tried-and-true come across as devices and detract from the reading experience.

The timeline is confusing – with three narratives, two periods of time, and oft-usage of the present tense, the general confusion of who is speaking and when continues throughout. Most especially because within those sections once you’ve figured out the who and where and when, which becomes easier, you’ve then got to constantly adjust between paragraph and multi-paragraph sections within chapters and these aren’t labelled or set apart from the rest. It means that you could be reading something important but you won’t know because the context is not there and as you don’t really want to be reading a lot of text over and over you miss some of it.

Chains Of Sand has a good idea behind it – one thinks, it is difficult to be definite – but it is confusing. It informs, it’s bold in what it does, and it’s fairly balanced in its overall focus, if not in its characters, but you do need to be prepared to do a lot of legwork.

I received this book for review from Midas PR.

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Tracy Terry

September 12, 2016, 6:18 pm

I had thought to add this to my ‘keep look out for’ list but alas I’m slightly put off by the what sounds like a confusing narrative.

Perhaps a book for another time. I just seem to have read my fill of novels with confusing duel narratives, time shifts, etc of late.


September 13, 2016, 8:04 am

Good point about the fact “normal” life has to go on among the conflict. There is a story here ther we need to hear but it seems this is not the air to do it.


September 13, 2016, 7:37 pm

Tracy: I would say read it, the information is something not spoken of much, but yes, it does need time and an acceptance of confusion. Oh, definitely, then – if you’ve had your lot of dual narratives leave it for a while. There’s two main narratives and a few smaller ones so it is quite a bit to keep up with.

Bookertalk: Yes, the contents of the book are needed for objectivity, but it could’ve been better.

Laurie @ Relevant Obscurity

September 14, 2016, 2:20 am

How interesting that a book on this subject is weak on emotion! I like how you noticed that and point it out. I don’t think it would deter me from reading it, as the subject interests me, but it’s a good criticism nonetheless.

When you pointed out “no” at the end of sentences, my first thought was to wonder if this was in translation, because in the old days, (or maybe still true), Jews will say “nu?” at the end or beginning of a sentence. Interesting.


September 15, 2016, 2:15 pm

Laurie: Yes. Reading other reviews and opinions, others have said ‘more political than anything else’, which sums it up too – politics itself, fine, but more about the characters would’ve been good. (Which of course sounds strange by itself because there’s a lot about the characters.) Thanks!

Oh, if it had been ‘nu’, while I can’t say I’m familiar with it, it would have registered as a cultural/language/both thing. Though, you saying what you have, perhaps it was the author Anglicising the ‘nu’? Hmm… I wonder…



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