A WORD FOR LOVE (Riverhead, 2017), the debut novel of Emily Robbins, has been published in the United States by Riverhead. A spare and exquisitely told, A WORD FOR LOVE is the story of a young woman transformed by language, risk, war, and a startling new understanding of love.
It is said there are ninety-nine Arabic words for love and Bea, an American exchange student, has learned them all: in search of deep feeling, she travels to a Middle Eastern country known to hold the “The Astonishing Text,” an ancient, original manuscript of a famous Arabic love story that is said to move its best readers to tears. But once in this foreign country, Bea finds that instead of intensely reading Arabic she is entwined in her host family’s complicated lives — as they tuck their hair away, lock the doors, and whisper anxiously about impending revolution.
Suddenly, instead of the ancient love story she sought, it is her daily witness of a contemporary Romeo-and-Juliet-like romance — between a housemaid and policeman of different cultural and political backgrounds — that astonishes her, changes her, and makes her weep. But as the country drifts toward explosive unrest, Bea questions how many secrets she can keep, and how long she can fight for a romance that does not belong to her. Ultimately, Bea’s own story begins to mirror that of The Astonishing Text that drew her here in the first place — not in the role of one of the lovers, as she might once have imagined, but as the character who lives to tell the story long after the lovers have gone.
Emily Robbins has herself lived and worked across the Middle East and North Africa. As a 2007-2008 Fulbright Fellow in Syria, she lived with the family of a leading intellectual and studied religion and language with a women’s mosque movement. With a second Fulbright grant for next year, she will research her next book in Jordan.
More information on A WORD FOR LOVE is here.