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The Tyrant's Daughter    by J. C. Carleson order for
Tyrant's Daughter
by J. C. Carleson
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

When you hear of coups in foreign countries, have you ever wondered about the rulers' extended families and what their lives were like afterwards?

J. C. Carleson (a former CIA officer) mentions in an Author's Note at the back of her book that her work took her through some of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Iraq and she wondered about the children who lived in them. She tells us that The Tyrant's Daughter is 'pure fiction inspired by real events' in countries all over the world. It's the story of a 'girl grappling with questions about guilt, choice, blame, and identity under circumstances both extraordinary and mundane.'

Laila, who has just turned fifteen, tells us that her six-year-old 'brother is the King of Nowhere' and her mother 'pretends that nothing has changed.' But everything has. Laila is still reeling from her father's execution (on the orders of her repressive uncle) and their abrupt change in lifestyle and status. The CIA helped them to escape and set them up in an apartment in 'not-quite-Washington, D.C.' Now Laila thinks of herself as the Invisible Queen.

Laila and small Bastien start school, against their mother's wishes, and gradually Laila makes a friend in Emmy. She suffers extreme culture shock, but works hard at adjusting to the enormous differences in everything around her. And, through news, the library, and Internet, she learns a great deal about her father that she would rather not have known. Laila wonders 'What kind of person doesn't know whether her father was a king or a monster?'

Laila grows close to two members of the opposite sex - cute and geeky Ian, who writes articles for the school newspaper; and hostile Amir, whose family has suffered greatly at the hands of her relations. She learns that her mother is cooperating with the CIA, but also working towards her own agenda and manipulating Laila into doing the same. Mired in 'a bottomless pit of treachery', the Invisible Queen decides it's time to learn from her parents' mistakes and fight for what she believes in.

A commentary by RAND researcher Dr. Cheryl Bernard at the back of the book gives further food for thought, with insights into the lives of Benazir Bhutto, Asma al-Assad and Sonia Gandhi. Written with great empathy, The Tyrant's Daughter is well worth reading.

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