Review by Adrina Palmer
A searing debut novel from the award-winning author of ‘You Know When the Men Are Gone,’ about jealousy, the unpredictable path of friendship, and the secrets kept in marriage, all set within the U.S. expat community of the Middle East during the rise of the Arab Spring.
Siobhan Fallon has weaved a tale of feminine friendship worthy of praise in “The Confusion of Languages.” Those unfamiliar with the close bonds necessary for military spouses stationed overseas will receive a taste of a world foreign to most Americans. Not only does Fallon tackle the difficult journey of life in Jordan but also beautifully portrays the intricate friendship women hold when forced into close quarters as strangers.
Cassie has lived in Jordan with her military husband, Dan, for a couple of years. They sponsor the new couple, Crick and Margaret, along with the new couples toddler son, Mather. Cassie sets up the new embassy apartment for Margaret, as she hopes to become friends. New Americans are like fresh meat. Everyone wants a piece of the new people and all their new stories. Margaret arrives like a wisp, unable to remain calm and collected. Crick, a man’s man, arrives almost separately from his wife and child, accurately displaying the dysfunctional dynamic in his marriage.
Before long Cassie finds herself in a whirlwind of emotions as her new friend is ready to explore the dangerous new country. Margaret refuses to understand people are not always honest and nice and leaps before looking with every decision she makes. She maintains eye contact with men. She wears shorts and shirts that reveal more skin than local women are allowed. With no understanding of the ramifications of these ill thought-out decisions, Cassie is forced to babysit the oblivious Margaret in this world so foreign. A plethora of background locals win their way into Margaret’s open heart. A security guard for the embassy, her landlord, and even some construction workers helping her to care for stray kittens. Cassie expects disaster at any moment, while Margaret remains completely locked in her childlike mentality.
Both women maintain delicate grasps on their marriage. Cassie has tried for years to conceive a child. After years of inability, her marriage began to crumble until only two strangers were left in the same shabby apartment. She sees Crick for the unhappy flirt he is, his eyes always looking for someone stronger than his wife. Dan takes more interest in Margaret than he should, leaving Cassie both done with her marriage but not wanting to share either man with anyone. Margaret remains blind to the longing looks Cassie has for baby Mather in her absentmindedness. Then the men deploy, and the women are left to themselves, Cassie ends up babysit both Mather and his mother.
With the men deployed to Italy, the women seek to find small comforts in each other and sightseeing. Cassie wants to stick to daily life while Margaret wants to experience Jordanian life. When a minor car accident sends Margaret to the local police to fill out a statement, Cassie is left watching the baby for hours. After three hours she begins to worry because this is longer than flighty Margaret has ever stayed away from her young son. After a few more hours of boredom, Cassie reads Margaret’s diary, releasing an overabundance of secrets and thoughts. Soon boredom turns to worry as Margaret is still gone and Crick is calling to find out where his wife has disappeared. The answer is hidden in vague script as Cassie continues to read her friends secrets.
Siobhan Fallon’s magic in prose shows the many faces a relationship must endure to create a connection, and the many faces a single person can wear. The tenuous bonds between people forced into an association because of distance from everyone they know. The openness of Cassie’s dark and twisty thoughts is so well orchestrated the reader has no control over both loving her and wanting to smack her for her humanness. Margaret is the object of obsession and loathing. Her lackadaisical personality and inability to see the grander schemes at play make her an easy target for disgust, and yet Cassie cannot help but envy this woman, incapable of controlling even the smallest aspects of her life.
As a prior military spouse thrust into another country, I found this novel to spark a truth about this almost secret life not often translated into words. Civilians are unaware of the necessity of friendship to help cope with deployments and a foreign lifestyle. Going to the grocery store alone can be a daunting challenge. Learning to cook with only exotic ingredients. How to greet strangers. What clothing to wear. Everything you thought you knew out the window. Even better, Fallon manages to show us to common personalities and how they manage the onslaught of change. Spouses of military are often forced into friendships with people they would never dream of befriending just to find that small grasp of normalcy unavailable with the local people.
Read this novel for the openness of truth and emotion. Fallon has a unique ability to display the intricacies of raw sentiments. Those who are unfamiliar with military life abroad will be enthralled with this secret world, while those familiar with this life will be revel in someone else’s ability to intimately understand their world. “The Confusion of Languages” is without flaw, perfectly exhibiting both human emotion and life away from home. Even without a happy American ending, this book will shake the foundations of thought and force readers to push the boundaries of normal understanding to find peace in the mistakes of life.
Now available in book stores
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