Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book review: The Conspiracy of Dreams by Sandra Biber Didner

I was given a copy of The Conspiracy of Dreams by the author Sandra Biber Didner for the sole purpose of writing an honest review.

Synopsis from the back of the book: Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Canaanites all share an ancient dream of possessing the land that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea which they hold sacred. In 1956, an Egyptian spy, Ishmael al Mohammed, is determined to gain information which will reclaim the infant state of Israel for the displaced Palestinian Arabs, one of whom is his mother. While on a secret espionage mission posing as an Isreali, he falls passionately in love with an Israeli woman, Rebecca Silverman. He must decide if he will betray the only person he will ever care for or be true to Islam, Egypt, and his family. A Christian, Danny O'Halloran, has always dreamed of walking th eStations of the Cross in Jerusalem, while again by the original inhabitants of the Canaan, which was remaned Palestine in her honor. Israeli politicians dream of making Israel a nuclear power while Britain and France conspire to regain the Suez Canal, which the President of Egypt nationalized. Against the backdrop of circumstances leading to the 1956 Suez War between Israel and Egypt a love story which encompasses the forbidden romance of Romeo and Juliet, Delilah's betrayal of Samson, and the treachery of Britain's MI6 double agents unfolds as Ishmael and Rebecca's story spans three millennia of history.

Oh, man, where do I start? This book was a beautifully-written fictional account of a spy who basically chose to be a spy because he didn't want to be a soldier, yet he still wanted to do something to honor his family and his country. I won't retell the synopsis you just read but rather tell you what kept me motivated in reading this book. Each chapter was written from the perspective of a different character and went back and forth between them 'til the end. I got to see the story unfold from each of their points of view, which is what made me feel connected to each of them. The way it was written, I was literally inside their heads! How often does one get to be a mind reader, right? I enjoyed that a little too much, ha! Didner did a superb job of character development, and I felt close to even the main characters' family members who didn't play a central role in the story, such as Rebecca's siblings, parents, aunts, and uncles. The two main characters are Rebecca and Ishmael. He goes by Isaac to pass himself off as an Israeli while snooping around in Ashkelon. He was trying to get close to Rebecca in order to gain sensitive military information from her family of soldiers, but he falls deeply in love with her. He ended up choosing his loyalty for the job above all. I jumped during parts of the story where he slipped up and said something very "Muslim" like, but Rebecca never catches on that he doesn't know Israeli culture like he should, probably because she's fallen into the age-old trap - love is blind.

He seduces her on the beach and moves on to his next assignment, leaving her with dreams of marrying him. She ends up pregnant, and after her sister Hannah is killed in the war, Hannah's fiance Simon marries Rebecca to save her reputation and also as an honor to his dead beloved. They have two kids of their own along with Ishmael's son. Simon could never fully treat the child the same as his own two, especially since he resembled his father and acted eerily like him in many ways. Rebecca even named him Isaac, after this fake persona she fell in love with.

I was impressed at the depth of research that had to go into this story. The details about the different cultures were intriguing, such as the prospect of arranged marriages and how easy it is to soil the family honor. I loved to hear Ishmael's thoughts as he passed harsh judgement on Israeli women and their stubborn, independent demeanor and the provocative way they dressed compared to Muslim women. His judgmental side didn't prevent him from falling in love with Rebecca, all the while scorning her people and their way of life. The random bombings, shootings, and deaths of lovable characters made for a realistic appeal to what these people experienced during this time of war and insolence, not to mention it kept me turning pages. It was both comical and despicable to watch Ishmael succumb to family pressure rather than pursue what he really wanted out of life. I felt sorry for him as well as glad he got what he seemingly deserved, a loveless marriage to Farah, whom he was arranged with since childhood and a life of regrets. He struck me as part coward, part hero, and the ending was astonishing when he runs into Rebecca 14 years later and learns he has a son.

I appreciated that the author took the time to write how she came up with the story in the Acknowledgement section. Her sister-in-law really did find out she was loved by a spy who in real life loved her from a distance for years. He took photos of her from afar and kept them with him as good luck charms. He came clean years later, and Rebecca phoned Didner with the fascinating story. I thought, "Wow! Why don't such thrilling things happen to me!"

I gave this book 5 stars. It very much earned each one with the painstaking work that was obviously put into this story. Be mindful, though, that if you do not enjoy historical references, you might not fully enjoy this and could be lost most of the time. But if the opposite is true, go read it! The Conspiracy of Dreams on Amazon.

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