Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Singing in Babylon, by Ann Galia O’Barr (OakTara)

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Kate McCormack is a college graduate seeking a meaningful profession and relief from beneath suffocating debt. She travels unwarily far beyond her cultural and spiritual comfort zones to satisfy both goals.

Philip Tangvald is a journalist on assignment for a foreign affairs magazine seeking professional recognition and relief from a failed personal and spiritual past. He immerses himself in his work to satisfy both goals.

Kate’s and Philip’s respective quests bring them together in the unlikeliest of places: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Neither of them are prepared for the other. Each of them needs the other.

Thus Ms. O’Barr begins a story of maturation and self-discovery steeped in cultural and spiritual nuance. Arriving fresh to teach English to Middle Eastern female students, sheltered Kate nearly goes into shock confronted by the stifling environment of a single woman in an Islamic state. Philip rescues the hapless Kate from more than one social misstep, in the process becoming drawn to the young woman, the last thing he wants to happen. Kate finds his rescues annoying, but discovers herself warming to him, also the last thing on her agenda.

Together, they live what it means to be an expatriated Christian in a Muslim culture. His assignment on immigration trends—both legal and illegal—exposes their hearts to a world they previously only knew in their heads. Ms. O’Barr’s personal knowledge of the issues involved from her experience as a foreign service officer in the Middle East lend authenticity to the story. Her ability to portray this so well as a writer brings the issues home in an engaging way.

A thought-provoking, even-handed look at faith, culture and love, Singing In Babylon provides solid fodder for personal reflection and group discussion. Beware, though, that some of that reflection and discussion will be uncomfortable—as it should be.

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