Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A Festive Surprise, by Margaret Amatt

Leannan Press, ISBN 9781914575815, October 2022

Farid Al-Karim is a Syrian refugee living in Scotland. He had to flee Syria because of his political activities, snuck across several countries, and finally reached the UK. He speaks good English, and is an experienced computer programmer, but even after getting legal approval to stay, his Syrian qualifications aren't recognized in the UK. So he's in Scotland, where a business connection of his father's, Archie Crichton-Leith, can give him a job. Unfortunately it's as a lumberjack, but it's work, and Archie also gives him a cottage to live in. The island is small, and friendly, and if he doesn't love the work, he does like Archie and the people he's working with.

Holly Devaney is a programmer working remotely, taking on the projects she wants, and living wherever she wants, usually for a few months at a time. Once she wanted to marry and put down roots; now she wants no permanent abode and no long-term relationship. She's in Scotland, on the same island as Farid, because her university friend Georgia, who married Archie earlier in the year, has offered her a cottage to stay in for the month of December, doing her work in splendid isolation. It's the one right next to Farid's.

Farid and Holly are immediately taken with each other's looks, and with a bit more exposure, each other's personalities and characters. But they have some pretty obvious conflicts. 

Farid is fascinated by Christmas. He's never really experienced it, except for one visit to the Christian quarter in Damascus to see the tree and the lights, and now he's settled in the UK, he wants to understand the Christmas customs--which, when you examine them each individually, don't really make sense. Most of them are not objectively connected to the birth of Jesus. He's finding it exciting and fun.

Holly hates Christmas. Deeply, passionately loathes it. We gradually learn about the event six  years previously that made her swear off, Christmas, potential marriage partners, and any lasting, permanent abode. She waits a lot longer to tell Farid anything about it. She hasn't even told her parents the truth about it, because she doesn't want to expose her humiliation to parents who have always seemed judgmental, ever since she disappointed them by not being born a boy.

Farid is more open, not completely, but more so, about what caused him to flee Syria to become a refugee, and his parents to later relocate to Turkey.

They make a bargain, that she will teach Farid something about Christmas, and he'll teach her about home--the concept and meaning of home, not about his home he can never go back to. They have fun, they laugh, they argue, they get really, really involved.

Holly won't admit to herself that she's falling in love. She's been very clear to Farid that she's leaving at the end of December, and this is a short-term relationship. He doesn't tell her what he's feeling, at least not in English, because he knows she'd break it off and probably leave the island immediately.

It's a complicated developing relationship, helped along by the kindness, helping hands, and sharing of their own emotions and experiences by others on the island, to both Holly and Farid.

It's a lovely story, with really excellent characters.


I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

No comments:

Post a Comment