Celia, an ex-BBC journalist turned film director, is in Tunisia a year before the Arab Spring with her handsome, archaeologist boyfriend, Sam, looking for locations for her next film. She comes across a story she cannot resist. She could not know that it would change her life, blunt her emotions, but make her name.
Whilst Celia is out of contact for weeks following her story, Sam thinks she's found someone else. Once back in London, he falls for the attractive and rich Alison Grainger. Sam, who has always been money conscious, has his own lucrative project; to turn one of Tunisia's most interesting Roman ruins into a living Roman-era town, with actors in togas, nudes in the public baths and gladiators - financed by the cynical, immensely rich Mr Ayeb. But Sam has a dilemma: he's uncovered something sensational at the site. It needs excavating but to do so would hold up the living town project - and Mr Ayeb's projects are never held up.
In a beautiful country ripe for revolt, this is a story of a man and two women: secrets suppressed, feminine curiosity, an epic quest and migration from Africa - the problem no one wants to face. We are given fascinating insights into the rites of the citizens of Roman Africa in 200 AD. We're cleverly engaged in the debate about commercialising our heritage and the plight of sub-Saharan Africans looking for a better life. The characters are true to life: interesting but flawed.
Suspense is maintained to the very end when the threads are drawn together in an unexpected, spectacular and profoundly moving ending. Written by an ex-Ambassador to Tunisia, with an assured style and great sensitivity, this is an exceptionally readable and thoughtful page-turner.
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Weighty Matters with a Light Touch
Ivor Rawlnson has combined his first-hand knowledge of Tunisia with an outstanding story-telling talent to produce an engaging first novel. It flits with ease from archaeological sites to a Foreign Office reception to the darker side of life in Tunisia before the Arab spring to a hospital ward, with unexpected turns in many chapters. For those familiar with Tunisia, it will be a reminder of many of that country's delights, and of some of its earlier sorrows. For those who aren't, it will be an incentive. For all, it is an entertaining and thought-provoking tale.