by Rana Asfour
If you were to ask expatriates what their biggest worry is, you’d possibly find that penciled high up on the list, if not at the very top, is the dreaded phone call that conveys the loss of a loved one back home.
Ten years ago, an expatriate myself, on a beautiful spring day while out shopping, I received one such phone call. It was my sister telling me that my dad had had a stroke and was alive, yet unconscious. I did make it back in time to say my goodbyes. I have been blessed that way. But, I don’t think that I have ever felt as I did on the morning of ‘that’ call.
With the passing of the years, I have come to accept these ‘moments’ as part of the deal that comes with living abroad, and if anything, they serve as reminders of how fleeting life can be and how treasured the time we spend with those we love. And, ultimately, it is not all doom and gloom, for with a repertoire of memories to choose from we are transported, as if in a time vessel, to instances and occasions where those who have left seem as if to exist for eternity. ‘Memories’, said novelist Jennifer Armentrout, ‘even bittersweet, are better than nothing’, or are they?
Twenty-Eight year-old Evie, a resident of Dubai, in Annabel Kantaria’s novel, ‘Coming Home’ receives a phone call from her mum telling her that her dad has died, in his sleep, of heart failure. In shock and disbelief at the news - she’d only seen him in the summer and he’d been fine, even planning a visit to Dubai - she packs her bags, hops on the earliest plane and makes her way to the family home in Woodside, ‘a functional commuter town that couldn’t decide if it was part of South London or north-west Kent’.
Evie realises that she hasn’t been home during the winter in the six years she’s been away. She is quite unprepared for how cold it is and this gives the reader the first hint that this may only be the first of many more things that Evie is unprepared for during her stay home at this difficult time.
From the beginning of the novel, it is apparent that Evie does neither come from a happy home nor one that is forthcoming with its feelings. We discover the family tragedy of long ago that rendered Evie's mum as if ‘an iceberg’, and leading her to sum up their relationship as ‘an exchange of huge quantities of useless information in a literary ballet that meant little’. Her father, on the other hand, had, since she was eight years old, ‘not only been physically absent most of the time, but emotionally unavailable as well’. That summer though, he'd seemed changed, more interested in her life. With such intense, emotionally bottled relationships defining her upbringing, she wonders whether her father's death will be ‘the earthquake that triggers the tsunami’.
'They say every expat is running away from something. I don't want to believe it about myself but somewhere, in a dark place where I try never to look, I know it's probably true' -- Evie
The entire novel centres around what we choose to conjure up from our past and how we decide what memories to suppress as if they never happened. The family’s tragic past comes to light by means of Evie’s flashback conversations between her 8-year-old self and Miss Dawson, her grief counsellor. As the sessions progress, the reader not only learns the details of the accident but an uncomfortable realisation starts to emerge about the deeper, invisible, repercussions it has had on the individuals left in its aftermath.
Evie is a character wracked by a huge amount of guilt and blame. There is also a thin vein of fear that feeds her recollections which readers soon come to realise may stem from darker and sinister events she has witnessed in the past; Events that she conceals even from the trustworthy Miss Dawson.
What is most poignant, and interesting to follow, in the novel is that Evie feels responsible for her mum and that, come what may, protecting her mother is ‘tattooed on her soul’. However, contrary to what Evie thinks of her mum, the readers are introduced to an independent, strong-willed, if self-centred individual who knows exactly what she wants and goes about getting it. It worries Evie though that her mum seems to have moved on too quickly; arranging for a swift cremation, throwing out her dad’s belongings, putting in an offer for a new house and spending very long hours with the widower next door; All signs that her mum is possibly, yet again, running away from having to deal with loss and grief.
'My mother was all I had left, and she was the mistress - the guardian - of The Gap' -- Evie
As Evie goes through her father’s papers, she stumbles upon a long hidden secret that threatens to shatter everything she once held dear. A chance encounter with her high school sweetheart, Luca, adds the touch of romance needed to complete Kantaria’s novel as Evie enlists his assistance in uncovering more of the mystery surrounding her latest discovery. Soon, all secrets, are out in the open and it is left to Evie to decide how she will rebuild a life amongst the debris of the explosive revelations.
Annabel Kantaria is a British-trained editor and journalist and the former editor of the 'Emirates Woman' magazine based in Dubai. She has written prolifically for publications in the UK and across the Middle East and currently works as the 'Telegraph’s' Dubai-based ‘Expat’ blogger (see HERE). In 2013, she won the inaugural Montegrappa First Fiction Competition at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. ‘Coming Home’ is her debut novel.
'Coming Home' by Annabel Kantaria
Evie has been away from home long enough to bury the pain that shaped her childhood. Now, with the sudden death of her father, she must return. Back to the same house. Back to the memories. Back to her mother.
At first, coming home feels unexpectedly comforting. But, as she goes through her father’s files, Evie uncovers a secret that opens old wounds and changes her life forever. That’s only the beginning. As Evie’s world starts to shatter around her, she realises that those she loves most are also those capable of the deepest betrayal.
A powerful, poignant novel, Coming Home is perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty.
Extra: World Exclusive!
Come and meet Annabel Kantaria author of 'Coming Home' a gripping new novel that also features Dubai! Annabel will be at Magrudy's Al Wahda store, Abu Dhabi this Saturday May 2, from 3-4pm for book signing. This is an event not to be missed!
'The Gulf Wife: A Memoir' by Jocelyn Henderson
Since she first arrived in the Trucial States with her husband, British diplomat Edward Henderson, Jocelyn Henderson has seen the region transform beyond all recognition. Set against the backdrop of cataclysmic wars and events that came to shape her life, 'The Gulf Wife' tells the story of Jocelyn’s remarkable life, her relationships with the families of the ruling Sheikhs, and the people she met along the way.
From tumultuous political developments to meetings with celebrities and international statesmen, The Gulf Wife is a window into the life of one of the UAE’s most prominent expatriates and an intimate look at life in the UAE and all that has changed.
'Generation Z: Their Voices Their Lives' by Chloe Combi
Generation Z have never had to save their pocket money to buy an album. They laugh when you tell them there used to be four channels on TV. Not many of them have grandparents that fought in a war. They've never known a world without the internet and have grown up with violence and porn at their fingertips with an object barely known to just one generation before them: a mobile phone.
Generation Z are growing up in a world of widening social inequality, political apathy and economic uncertainty. They join gangs, are obese, have underage sex, drink, commit crime and are a menace to society - or so the media leads us to believe.
Chloe Combi has interviewed hundreds of teenagers and children born between 1994 and 2005. She has talked to some of the richest and poorest in kids in the country. She has travelled on night buses with gangs, gone on a post-GCSE trip to Glastonbury, hung out in crack houses where teenagers get high, rehabilation centres where they get help and churches where they find God.
Chloe has found that Generation Z are selfish, violent, scared, sex-obsessed and apathetic. She has also found them delightful, curious, kind, and worried about their futures.
Generation Z is an emotional, illuminating, sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious odyssey through the lives of this generation told in their own voices.
Extra Reading: Hard-core porn, violent YouTube videos and live sex shows: A devastating new book reveals the terrifying truth about what teens really get up to on their laptops and smart phones (by Chloe Combi for The Daily Mail)
'Love & Justice: A Compelling True Story Of Triumph Over Tragedy' by Diana Morgan Hill
At the age of 29, Diana Hill fell under a London train. In 7 seconds the tall, glamorous businesswoman went from busy woman of the world with everything to live for to double-leg-amputee, her life in ruins.
Then it got worse. A few days after her accident, as she lay in hospital, traumatised and heavily sedated, she learnt via a newspaper article that the railway's Transport Police were to interview "The Fall Girl", as the Press had labelled her, with a view to prosecution. She had boarded a moving train, they said, and trespassed onto their railway line.
Her fight for justice took five years and was, she declares with no hesitation, a more harrowing experience than having both of her legs 'stolen' from her. As any young, single woman would be, Diana was shocked to the core by the sudden, catastrophic change in her body image. What man would ever love her now?
The issues surrounding sexuality and disability are explored here with stark honesty as she recalls her complicated love life, the High Court dramas, and the rawness of her pain amidst a turmoil of emotion, all told with tremendous humour, charm and heart. For Diana loves to tell stories. Especially true ones. A brutally honest, heartwarming memoir that shocks and delights in equal measure - when you're not crying for her you're laughing with her.
Extra Reading: 'I lost both my legs under a train - then the rail company sued me!' Diana Morgan-Hill was rushing to meet a friend when, in a split second, her life changed forever