Hotline by Dmitri Nasrallah

A young woman and her son emigrate to Montreal from war-torn Lebanon after her husband is kidnapped and presumed dead. Struggling to make ends meet and look after her son, she finds the immigrant life not all it was promised to be. 

A French teacher in her own country, she'd been told it would be easy to find work in Canada, but the reality is no one wants to hire a foreign single Mother without references. Desperate, she takes a job with at Nutri-Fort, a weight-loss center, as "A hotline operator, a phone-order taker, a shipper of boxes, an ear whose only purpose in life is to swallow the sadness of strangers."

In their tiny apartment Muna sleeps on the worn sofa, giving her son, Omar, the one bedroom so he'll be rested for school and have a space that gives him some feeling of permanence, of home. Her dreams are filled with memories of her husband, still alive and at her side, talking to her, touching her; her waking hours with wondering what might have happened to him, what might be happening even now. She worries about Omar being alone and unsupervised between the time he gets home from school and when she gets off work, and fears she's beginning to lose him. 

This male author's capacity for viewing life from a wife's and mother's perspective, and for understanding and expressing her emotions, is impressive. Muna's internal dialogue reveals so clearly who she is and how she experiences her loves and losses. Each time I closed the book and glanced at the author's name I was surprised again that it wasn't written by a woman.

Quite a few Lebanese terms are used in the writing but most can easily be figured out from context. I googled some I was curious about and had no trouble finding English equivalents. Other than that the language is uncomplicated and easy to read. I got quite caught up in it and didn't want to put it down, but had to so I wouldn't finish too far ahead of our book club meeting - my aging brain doesn't hold on to things as well as it once did.  

The title I thought was a little misleading, but it seemed more apt after she compared herself to a hotline - connecting her present life to her past, coming to terms with who she was then and who she is now. Still, the real story is not her job but her struggles as a wife, mother, and immigrant. The first part of the book did introduce us to some of her clients, even had me wondering if one of them might become a problem down the road, but later the story veered away from them and focused on Muna, Omar and the missing husband again.  

A poignant, ultimately hopeful story about moving on from a traumatic past and doing whatever it takes to make a new home in a foreign country.


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