Known for her books on Arab-American themes, Crescent
, Arabian Jazz
, and The Language of Baklava
, Abu-Jaber makes a departure here, into a whole new world of mystery, alienation and unanswered questions. Lena Dawson is a fingerprint expert in Syracuse, New York, at the time that SIDS is, unaccountably, on the rise. When cribs start showing up in the evidence lab, everyone is uncomfortable, Lena more than anyone. She doesn't believe in coincidence; she thinks that there is a serial baby-killer loose.Lena doesn't know where she came from. Her foster parents tell her only so much, and her mother keeps insisting that their loving presence should be enough for her. Why didn't they ever adopt her? Lena asks the question over and over again, to no avail. Her earliest memories are of a rain forest, an ape mother, fur and leaves and a canopy of trees...was she really raised by apes until she was found by humans and put in foster care?
Abu-Jaber has done a masterful job of keeping the suspense going right to the very end. The story is compulsively readable; once you start, you can't stop until you find out what the real story is. Lena's origin has something to do with the crib deaths, but what is it? How could they possibly be connected? With the help of a detective who is more than a friend and an understanding boss and his wife, Lena pursues the question relentlessly, at her own peril. She could be the next victim.
Lena also has an ex-husband who is well-meaning most of the time, but really is a certifiable jerk, colleagues who are gossipy backbiters and a goofy neighbor, just to up the ante in this absolutely original (no pun intended) story of identity. Lena is socially inept, reclusive and possessed of an uncanny sense of smell and an intuitive approach to every question. Her character dominates the book, and as she uncovers more and more about herself, her personality opens up and, by story's end, she is becoming what she was meant to be. A departure for Abu-Jaber; a treat for readers. --Valerie Ryan