Friday, 3 August 2012
A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery
Don't judge this one by the cover. It may look bright and cheerful but A Brighter Fear is a hard-hitting account of the Iraq war through the eyes of seventeen year old Lina. We first meet Lina in Baghdad in 2003, where she is living with her father in the prelude to the American-led invasion. Lina describes a culture of repression, where people are scared to even think negative thoughts about the regime, let alone express them ("a lifetime of being allowed no opinion but the right one"). Lina has experience of this threat as her lawyer mother was taken away by the secret service years ago and no one has heard anything about her since. As the bombs start to fall, Lina shelters in the basement with her Papa during the night but attempts to live a normal life throughout the day.
But normal has ceased to exist. As a Christian, Lina is shunned by her former friends as it would be dangerous for them to be seen with her. Her father takes on a job interpreting for the US army, making him a target. When she continues to walk around with her hair uncovered, Lina is the victim of an acid attack. Through Lina we hear of rape, torture and see dismembered bodies abandoned by the roadside. Interspersed with all this is the story of what happened to Lina's mother, Sacha, when she was taken by the secret police, starting with horrific torture scenes.
So A Brighter Fear isn't your average young adult novel. I really appreciated it's boldness at setting down what the Iraqi war must have been like to actually live through. If I had read this as a teenager, I would have found it even more shocking than I did as an adult. I also appreciated how Drewery refrained from making this a black and white novel, she showed the shades of grey involved in the conflict. Lina and her family hate Saddam due to what happened to her mother so initially they welcome the invasion. But the trigger-happy soldiers and the fact that "we all look the same to them" makes Lina reconsider. There's never any 'good guys' or 'bad guys' in the sense of the conflict and that struck me as realistic - who can be a good guy in a war situation? Drewery writes about fear very well and we see Lina's attempts to overcome her fear, something that made her relatable;
"I was living a horror film with no end credits in sight. But this wasn't a film, or a dream, or a story. This was life. And I couldn't just press the off button, or wake up, or slam the pages shut. I had to live it."
Despite all these positive elements, I think the 'love story' between Lina and an American soldier was a mistake. It came across as an add-on to the real story, an attempt to make the book more appealing to it's intended audience (it's even the tag-line of the novel despite it playing a minor role in the story). I get that Lina didn't have any friends, that she would cling to any escape clause from her life, but it could have been written as a friendship rather than an impossible love story. There are a few times where Lina and Steve manage to meet despite impossible circumstances, and these situations felt contrived.
But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by A Brighter Fear. It was bold and direct and had a lot to say about the Iraq war without shying away from the unpleasant aspects or simplifying it. A job well done.
Source: From Harper Collins UK, via Netgalley
First Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5