Chains of Sand
Legend Press £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9
THE Russian scholar Vladimir Propp once said that all the stories in the world could be broken down into 31 types. Christopher Booker, more recently, suggested that there were seven basic plots. In reality, this can be reduced to three. The first is romantic: boy meets girl. The second is about the search for home, for a return to the place you belong. The third is about escape, and the possibility of freedom offered by somewhere altogether different.
Chains of Sand is a complicated book with a complex message. It interweaves past and present, London and Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Gaza. It deals with important political issues such as the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and the conflict between religion and feminism. It is not afraid to tackle rape, violence, racism, and sex and relationships across culture. This is, to say the least, a great deal to cover in 300 pages — a great deal for any book to bear.
And yet, at its heart, Chains of Sand is a story about love, home, and escape. It is about how all three run through the lives of people whether they live in England, Israel, or Palestine. There are several love stories here, all more or less doomed. All are seeking some sort of home or homeland; all are seeking some sort of escape. All are trapped or thwarted, imprisoned by who they are or where they live. Whether love is real, whether home can be found, whether freedom is possible — all these remain open questions to the end.
It is a beautifully observed, carefully crafted, often touching, sometimes shocking, and always compelling read. If the characters sometimes say what they need to say rather than what you suspect real people might actually say, then this is a small price to pay for a sustained and humane meditation on fundamental themes.
The Revd Dr William Whyte is Senior Dean, Fellow, and Tutor of St John’s College, Oxford, and Professor of Social and Architectural History in the University of Oxford.