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A Girl Made of Dust    by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi order for
Girl Made of Dust
by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi's A Girl Made of Dust tells - at a slow and steady pace - of the life of a Christian Maronite family in a village outside Beirut, Lebanon in the early 1980s. This was a time of conflict in the area between Israelis, Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims. Events are seen from the often bewildered perspective of ten-year-old Ruba, showing the puzzling nature of life in a war zone - and adults' reactions to it - to a child.

Ruba's family is a damaged one. Her Papi (Nabeel) reminds her of the cactus - 'He sat in the corner all hard and dry, as though someone had forgotten to water him.' He's been like that for years, since an incident in Beirut, where he'd gone to resupply his shop. Now he neglects his work and his family. Mami (Aida) keeps busy all day, cooking and cleaning incessantly. Teta (grandmother) has dreams of death and disaster. And Rubi's brother Naji is always angry. He makes bad choices in both his friends and his interests. The siblings love their Uncle Wadih, who visits occasionally. Wadih makes mysterious, private phone calls.

Rubi assumes that an old witch who lives on the high road 'put a spell on Papi to make him the way he was', and she wants to break that spell. Long-limbed Amal, a new girl at school, never speaks, another casualty. Amal turns out to be the witch's granddaughter. Though Rubi rejects Amal initially, friendship grows between them, and Rubi later learns how their families' lives have intersected. And, as violence and shelling zero in on their village, Rubi finds out what her uncle does and gradually learns about the girl made of dust who haunts her father.

There's a nice symmetry to this story - a girl made of dust lost and found, a curse placed and lifted, a family broken and restored when the father finds his redemption in an act of heroism. At the end Rubi muses, 'I was glad he'd drunk all that water, and that he was no longer a cactus standing motionless in a pot full of dry cracked earth.' If you've wondered what it might be like to live in the shadow of war, then read A Girl Made of Dust.

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