Fencing with the King

Diana Abu-Jaber. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-86771-8

Abu-Jaber (Crescent) places a family in the crosshairs of Jordanian political intrigue in this nicely layered story. In 1995, recently divorced poet Amani Hamdan encourages her father Gabe to accept an invitation to return to his native Jordan for a fencing demonstration alongside the king. Amani, intrigued to learn more about a mysterious poem written by her deceased grandmother, accompanies him on her first trip there. They stay with Gabe’s older brother, Hafez, an influential government official who has schemed to lure Gabe and recover an ancient knife from him that belonged to their late father. Hafez views Amani as a potential protege but is unsettled by her questions about the family’s past, and while he plots to claim a lucrative swath of land near the Israeli border, which is ripe for settlement by Palestinian refugees, Amani tries to locate the places mentioned in her grandmother’s poem. She also uncovers a lost relative and catches the eye of a fencing instructor. Their romance takes up a good chunk of the final act, but it’s less gripping than the plot involving Hafez. Still, Abu-Jaber ably captures the tenuous role of Jordan in the mid-1990s Middle East peace process while unearthing a family’s buried secrets. It adds up to an engrossing family drama. (Mar.)
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