Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Nora Eldridge has been treading water as a third-grade teacher, since nursing her mother through a 4-year terminal illness.  Her inertia comes to an abrupt end, however, when the Shahid family moves to town.  First, their son, Reza, a beautiful blending of his Lebanese father and Italian mother, joins her class.  Then Reza's mother, Sirena, asks Nora to share a rented art studio, and Nora springs to life, recommitting herself to her artistic endeavors, which are tiny dollhouse replicas of the rooms inhabited by some of her favorite female role models.  Finally, she swoons over Sirena's husband Skandar, so that now she is infatuated with all three.  This charismatic family is a mixed blessing for Nora.  On the one hand, they inspire Nora to embrace life, but, on the other hand, that life centers around the Shahids, who are destined to leave the country within a year.  As a reader, we can detect that perhaps something nefarious is going on, but Nora is oblivious to all the warning signs.  Only 8-year-old Reza seems to value Nora with sincerity, while his parents supply her with the flattery that she craves.  When the Shahids return to Paris, Nora finds herself in holding pattern again, hanging on their every communication, no matter how slight.  Their appalling betrayal, however, is much more monumental than the simple abandonment of a loyal friend.  After Nora discovers what they're really up to, she becomes livid, and she describes that anger at the beginning of the novel.  After finishing the book, with the benefit of knowing why Nora is justifiably angry, I had to reread the opening pages.  She also describes there how carnival Fun Houses are more scary than fun, with their warped mirrors and slanted perspectives, but the Shahids are not so much scary as just plain weird.

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