"A paean to unabashed, unbridled love." --Khaled Hosseini, New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite Runner
A mesmerizing debut set in Syria on the cusp of the unrest, A Word for Love is the spare and exquisitely told story of a young American woman transformed by language, risk, war, and a startling new understanding of love.
It is said there are ninety-nine Arabic words for love. Bea, an American exchange student, has learned them all: in search of deep feeling, she travels to a Middle Eastern country known to hold the "The Astonishing Text," an ancient, original manuscript of a famous Arabic love story that is said to move its best readers to tears. But once in this foreign country, Bea finds that instead of intensely reading Arabic she is entwined in her host family's complicated lives--as they lock the doors, and whisper anxiously about impending revolution. And suddenly, instead of the ancient love story she sought, it is her daily witness of a contemporary Romeo and Juliet-like romance--between a housemaid and policeman of different cultural and political backgrounds--that astonishes her, changes her, and makes her weep. But as the country drifts toward explosive unrest, Bea wonders how many secrets she can keep, and how long she can fight for a romance that does not belong to her. Ultimately, in a striking twist, Bea's own story begins to mirror that of "The Astonishing Text" that drew her there in the first place--not in the role of one of the lovers, as she might once have imagined, but as the character who lives to tell the story long after the lovers have gone.
With melodic meditation on culture, language, and familial devotion. Robbins delivers a powerful novel that questions what it means to love from afar, to be an outsider within a love story, and to take someone else's passion and cradle it until it becomes your own.
In Robbins's debut novel, unrest grows in Syria as an American student there becomes involved in a forbidden love triangle. Bea is as enamored of the Arabic language as she is with the idea of falling in love. Once in Syria, she is desperate to read a near-mythic ancient love poem referred to as "The Astonishing Text," in the hopes of having a rapturous experience reading it in its mother tongue. The content of that text a besotted poet longs for his estranged beloved, while a shepherd befriends him and acts as keeper of his poems runs parallel to Bea's experiences, in which she falls for a policeman who in turn falls for the maid of her host family, and she becomes the carrier of his love letters to the maid. While the love story intensifies, so too does the situation in Syria, affecting the patriarch of Bea's host home, who is viewed as a dissident by the government. Robbins weaves a story complete with exquisite sentences, including descriptions of the Syrian landscape: "the winds swept up the desert in the evenings... there were dark smudges of smoke like birds on the horizon." Bea's fascination with language and the unique characteristics of Arabic add delightful layers to the text. This is a rich, understated novel that offers an absorbing story full of longing, political intrigue, and the beauty found outside the familiar.