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Nicholas Sparks: Safe Haven
Romance novels have often been associated with sappiness and over-the-top displays of affection. Nicholas Sparks' novels might feature a little bit of that, but with additional depth added to it. Safe Haven is a fairytale for adults; it's a little getaway to a universe where true love conquers all.
On the run from a past that she prefers to keep vague, Katie finds herself with very little money to get by. Surrounded by mystery and fear, she flees to Southport, North Carolina where she keeps to herself, but eventually, she lets her guard down, and reluctantly develops relationships with the people around her. She falls in love with widowed Alex and his two kids, and befriends her eccentric neighbour Jo. When her past comes back to haunt her, Katie questions her own self-worth, her ability to recover and the possibility of maintaining relationships with the people that she loves without hurting them.
As the story unfolds, the reader understands that Katie was the victim of abuse by her husband. She tries to be as inconspicuous as possible, yet her need for human companionship overpowers her fear. The twist is exposed early on in the novel, adding up to a weak climax and making the rest of the novel predictable. With a bruised body and a bruised ego, Katie reassembles the ruins of her life until her husband finds her.
Aside from its predictability, Safe Haven has a seamless narrative. However, the characters feel like actors that smile all the time until the muscles of their jaws ache. Although the plotline is simple and easy to follow, the characters lack realism and are too perfect to be a part of today's world.
What makes Safe Haven a good read is the fairytale love aspect; it's healthy to escape reality every once in a while and reside in fantasy, and Safe Haven offers just that with an inspiring element as well. As the story develops and Katie falls in love with Alex, she learns to love herself again.
Unlike other Sparks novels, Safe Haven doesn't have a heartbreaking ending. A short walk into the world of the supernatural wras up the novel unexpectedly, but that doesn't make up for the clichés in the storyline.
Safe Haven is a good novel by Sparks, but if you’re familiar with all his other work, you may feel a little let down.
The structure of the book is difficult to map out. While the story is chronological in the bigger sense, events tend to jump back and forth, where each child slave’s full story is only revealed the further you read. We do not know exactly how either of them came to be until to the end.
Other distractions from the story line are religious references. Using Biblical references, verses from the Quran and the history of Moses and Adam, Thompson uses mythical tales to reflect on the characters at hand and the trials they face. He even has a character and element that bears an uncanny representation of Noah and his arc.
Apart from his use of history and religious fables, Thompson also tells a very aggressive, and often times, dark story. Dodola is married off as a child and upon turning to prostitution is subjected to rape and mistreatment. Zam is a slave who sacrifices his manhood out of a loss of a better life. They are both abused time and time again and having their misfortunes sketched out for the eye to witness adds a shocking element to the novel.
This brings us to what makes the novel so wonderful at the same time; the illustrations. The detailing of the sketches and the exemplary hand-work at play is extremely commendable. Action scenes have your eyes rushing through the pages as frantically as one seen on a TV screen. The beauty in the details is endless; the graphics are looming and grand but also sensual and precise. There is a lot of calligraphy incorporated, which makes for an interesting experience for those who can read Arabic.
Another interesting aspect is his combination of the new and the old. Though the story takes place in today’s world, a lot of the prevalent ideologies are from nomadic times; primitive and beastly.
There is indeed something quite poetic about the story he tells – and the manner in which it is told – regardless of the gruesome, harsh aspects; on the contrary, it is these parts that make the novel that much more meaningful.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.