by P J Fry
This is a love story set around the Arab–Israeli war of 1967. The couple at the centre are Captain John Ferris a New Zealand army captain serving as a UN military observer on the Israeli–Lebanon border, and Leila, a Palestinian woman he meets while rescuing a child from a burning building.
Their relationship grows in the midst of the confusion and violence of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but must remain secret because the UN observers are forbidden to show any bias or favouritism towards either side. They make plans to marry and travel to New Zealand to start a new life together, however the conflict has other plans for them. It is a story that reveals the suffering endured by the Lebanese and Palestinians during the fighting that devastated their country. It is a tale related by someone who has clearly experienced the region and its difficulties first hand.
John Ferris risks his military career by continuing to meet Leila, but she takes a far greater risk, as discovery of her relationship by the PLO or her own brothers would mean disaster for her. Her mother also plays a significant role in the story, disapproving at first, but finally accepting that marrying John would mean a much better life for her daughter. However, nothing is easy at that time in Lebanon. The couple are caught up in the confusion of the conflict, and the final outcome is really unexpected.
The author has been a New Zealand army captain who served the UN as an observer in the Middle East and in East Timor, and this military experience makes the battle sequences seem very realistic and vivid. One thing it impressed upon me was the danger that the unarmed UN observers were exposed to, and the isolation they experienced while doing their job on the border between Israel and Lebanon. At the time of the Israeli invasion there were only 15 of them in small observation posts stretched out across the whole country. They were in constant danger of attack by Israelis who did not want them there, or PLO soldiers who saw them as a source of money and took every opportunity to rob them at gunpoint. Being unarmed they had no defence against either side.
This is a fast-paced book, which captured my attention early on and did not release it until the end. I was grateful for the map at the front of the book and found myself turning to it many times, just to visualise where the action was.
If there is one criticism, it is that the relationship between the couple develops a little too quickly to be believable. However, I really enjoyed the book and can confidently recommend it to anyone.
Author: P.J. Fry