A Word for Love by Emily Robbins [in Library Journal]
The arrival of an unexpected package inspires Bea to begin writing her story, “in the hope that [she] could do it justice, and clear [her] conscience.” Years earlier, she traveled to an unnamed Middle Eastern country (certainly inspired by Syria, where debut author Emily Robbins was a Fulbright Fellow) as a student of Arabic, hoping to read “the astonishing text” that contained a legendary love story.
Having studied all 99 words for “love,” Bea arrives more linguistically prepared than emotionally aware. Her studies pale to the drama playing out in her host family’s home: the controlling Madame, her potentially dissident husband, and their daughters of varying ages. Most compelling is what happens between the Indonesian house servant and the poetic policeman.
Julia Whelan’s smooth, understated narration captures Robbins’s observant prose with an effective distance that never allows the narrative to devolve into shrillness, even as relationships, family structures, and societal norms are threatened by growing fear and violent militancy. Bea bears witness to an uncertain future in which no version of “love” can guarantee anyone’s safety.
Verdict: With Syria and the Middle East regularly in the headlines, Love – in multiple formats – is a literary journey well worth exploring.