Review of Leap of Faith by Queen Noor and Home by Marilynne Robinson

There are two books for review this week that are worthy of your reading pleasure.

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Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor

Lisa Halaby was an American of Arab and Swedish descent who found herself being pursued by the King of Jordan, King Hussein not long after she graduated from Princeton University as part of the class of 1974 that included the first women graduates of Princeton. She said ‘yes’ and thus began a nearly 21 year marriage that ended with King Hussein’s death due to cancer in February, 1999. And in that period of time she became Queen Noor of Jordan. Many would call her marriage a fairy tale marriage but Queen Noor strips away that illusion with an honest but loving account of life behind the scenes as the wife to the leader of a nation that sat squarely in the middle of the turbulent Middle East.

Her majesty begins with a story her first impressions of her husband that came as her father who was there on aviation business, the presentation of the first 747 to fly for Jordan’s national airline, had her take a picture of the King and himself. She the moves on to  a telling of her roots: her dad of Arab descent and his father’s family migration from Syria to Lebanon to America and his birth in Dallas, Texas and her mother of Swedish descent and her upbringing among the political leaders of the 1950’s as her father, who had been a test pilot during World War 2 had become involved with the aviation industry (he would also serve as the head of the FAA.)

Then she moves on to her family life, troubled at times; decisions about college as she would leave Princeton to briefly to work in Colorado; and a coming of age during the Vietnam War and its political turbulence. And finally, with a degree in hand, she began working for an Australian architectural firm that would land her in places such as Tehran, Iran and the area of the world that she would become deeply devoted to.

But the bulk of the book is the story of her very public life and the private stresses and strains as a step-mother and mother, and the wife of a national leader who sought to bring stability and growth to a nation that was often in the shadow of a larger set of nation states. Queen Noor does not sugar coat her life but she finds great pleasure in her marriage and her family life and in her work to improve the quality of life for Jordanians of all backgrounds. She also reveals the behind scene struggles for peace and stability in the Middle East as it goes through regional conflict and major war in the early 1990’s.

I liked reading this book for the personal portrait she paints of an area of the Middle East that gets scant attention and for presenting a side that has not gotten much press in the West.

On my very unofficial book scale, I rate this book a 5, a ‘great’ read.

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Home by Marilynne Robinson

Having read her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead five years ago, I was ready to read this ‘follow-up’ novel to it. (Some have called it a companion piece). I was not disappointed.

Now I must share that I am a minister and having worked with families and family dynamics, the very evident tension in the Boughton home as the story begins with Jack, the beloved prodigal son and Glory, the younger sister whose life has not turned out the way she thought it would, is very credible.

The story unfolds very haltingly as Jack and Glory, and from either side of them, their aging minister father and his long time pastoral colleague, Reverend Ames, circle one another, almost like cats do to another cat, warily watching and probing, before making a decision to engage.

Forgiveness is a key theme in the Boughton’s story as Glory reveals early on (page 74 of the iBooks edition) “You must forgive in order to understand… If you forgive, he would say, you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace.”

But forgiveness of one’s self is likewise as evident as forgiveness in others, as in Jack’s efforts to make peace with himself as much as with God and others; as with Glory’s attempt to rectify the choices made to return to her father’s home after an engagement gone bust; and with the Senior Boughton who struggles to reconciling his feelings of failure as a father in the presence of his most troubled son.

The pace of the story quickens easily as the walls, especially between Jack and Glory, come down and they begin to peel back layer after layer of regret, shame, guilt, with an emotional honesty and clarity that Jack seems to turn his back on and Glory seems to wallow in with a stoic resignation.

If you seek to read and experience the pains of not just living in families but being human and dealing with issues of faith and character in a realistic way, then Home is a wonderful read.

I liked this book, in part because I enjoyed Gilead, and because the story line of spiritual tension that hung between peace and turmoil was well strung. The characters are memorable and real. Faith is not an ‘add on’ but an intergral part of the human struggle. And the questions which remain at the end, are lingering questions of many persons.

On my review scale this book gets a “4” a good read.

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