Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, there lived a beautiful queen, adored by her King and children and much loved by the people of the land. The King and Queen, famous for their compassion and love for their people, were bound by a deep sense of duty to support the betterment of each and every individual in the land. They would often travel about the Kingdom to wherever they felt their presence most needed earning the altruistic Queen the title of 'Mother of the poor'.
Until sadly, on one ill-fated day, the helicopter transporting the Queen crashes and the Kingdom is plunged into mourning. The King, not only a monarch who has to address his people on the loss of their beloved Queen but as a father he is saddled with the daunting task of informing his two young children, a boy and a girl, that their mother will never return to them again; they will now have to face the ultimate challenge of resuming life without her.
Although the above tale seems as if it were the stuff of fiction, it is a rather brief, but true, account of the life of HRH Queen Alia al-Hussein, the late Queen Consort of Jordan and the third wife to the late King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan. The children she leaves behind are Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein and Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, the 'real-life princess' who is the inspiration for Stacy Gregg's children's novel 'The Princess and the Foal'.
The novel highlights a series of events in the life of Princess Haya that occur between the ages of five and twelve. As a young 'titch' she is heartbroken and inconsolable in spite of her father's continuous efforts to help her get over the tragic death of her mother. Adding to her sense of loss is the departure of her old nanny, Grace, who has been replaced by the two-faced governess Frances Ramsmead. With one 'personality' reserved for the King and another for the children and staff, matters don't go smoothly simply because 'Frances is a stupid meany' a young Prince Ali confirms.
Haya's source of solace is her love of horses and it is only at the Royal Stables in Al Hummar that she feels strongest and happiest. Unfortunately, Frances continuously tries to discourage her from being with her beloved animals believing it is the Princess's duty to be a lady, not to associate with the stable staff.
So, when she is entrusted with the care of a young foal on her sixth birthday, who she names 'Bint al Reeh' aka 'Bree', her life takes a different turn and the sadness slowly starts to dissipate. Drawing on the memory of her mother as an athlete, she dreams that she will one day be the first female horse rider to win the King's Cup and make her Father proud. Her dream isn't without obstacles leaving her, in the darkest hour, with a sense that its realisation may be hopeless and unattainable. Many lessons are learnt along the way.
Stacy Gregg tells a beautiful, refreshing, engaging tale about a princess with a dream. A princess who is not only proud of her ancestry (she wants to be a proper Arabian Princess) but is also endowed with her parents' sense of duty and responsibility. Haya is also a sister and the mischief she gets up to with her brother, Prince Ali, are the best parts of the book and will make you laugh out loud. They are like two peas in a pod and Gregg captures a genuinely affectionate sibling relationship that is heartfelt and heartwarming.
Well folks, landed safely in Amman, Jordan after a lovely easy flight. Touched down at 3am local time and by the day's end had sat down to a local dish of Mansaf (an absolute must and totally heavenly food) after which I headed off to watch 'Cirque de Glace- Evolution' at Amman's Al Hussein Youth City (Cultural Palace).
A dazzling performance by a strong cast of 40 skaters from Russia, all Olympic winners going at such high speed that at times was a bit too frightening especially when one takes into account the size of the stage they were performing on. But the cast done good (despite a few trip-ups here and there) and it was an enjoyable performance that earned the skaters a standing ovation throughout the full-house!
That was yesterday and today I did what I do best which is browse through the aisles of bookshops. I visited the Reader's Bookshop located on the Ground Floor of Amman's Cozmo shopping centre. The staff were very friendly and the layout modern and easy to navigate through. If left to my own devices I could have bought much more than I did, but I still have a week here and more book haunts to visit and so will hold out a bit longer. Here is what I bought:
1. A Bride's Gift by Ulla N.G. Khraisat: this is a love story between Anna, Swedish and unmarried, and Ahmad, Jordanian and married. It takes place in Jordan, Amman, Irbid, Umm Qais, and Sweden, Stockholm, between 1989 and 1991, in the shadow of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the following war. For Anna, marriage is not necessary while Ahmad insists on marriage. A divorce is for him immoral. He wants Anna as his second wife. Will Swedish Anna accept to be wife number two? Anna meets Karin, a Swedish woman living in Irbid with her Jordanian husbands Ali. A deep friendship develops between the two women. (synopsis from the cover).
2. Twice Shy by Samar Salfiti: Sara lacks confidence, but finds it very plentiful in her friends, brothers, and parents. She struggles, however, to find comfort in her older sister, who is always turning her away. When a new friend, Amelia, enters Sara's life, things become complicated. Amelia is a strong character who goes after what she wants, at any expense. The two girls hit it off and Sara cherishes her friend until Amelia's behaviour changes and makes her question how much of a friend she really is. Struggling through the seventh grade, Sara learns about boys, coping with her sister's deviant behaviour, and how to deal with different friends.
3. On Love & Death by Hisham Bustani ( عن الحب و الموت): Short stories in Arabic.
4. Black Suits You Well by Ahlam Mosteghanemi (الاسود يليق بكِ)