What We Are Reading Today: Of Sea and Sand

Novel “Of Sea and Sand” immerses the reader in the landscape of Oman.
From seasoned Irish author Denyse Woods comes “Of Sea and Sand,” a novel about the power of losing oneself to the pressures of the world and making gains in unexpected places and ways. Woods’ sixth novel is set in Muscat, Oman, and its surrounding areas. The sultanate’s history and geologically diverse landscape are presented through the experiences of expatriates who call the country their home.
Woods first introduces her readers to Gabriel, who arrives in Muscat in 1982. He is fleeing his home in Cork, Ireland, from familial trouble and has found refuge with his sister who lives in Oman. With family ties strained, Gabriel attempts to find solace in the city by the sea, where the March heat beats down on his head as does his guilt. Attempting to forget his past, Gabriel immerses himself in Oman – its deserts, mountains, sea, and people. And while there, he meets a woman, someone only he can see but no one else can.
Meanwhile, Thea is in Iraq, amid the Iran-Iraq war, working as a secretary with an Irish company. In need of adventure and experience, the young woman makes Baghdad her home. It is the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, the 8th-century architecture of the Abbasid Caliphate, and the Al-Tar Caves that keep her there despite the war. But an event that is out of Thea’s control forces her to return to Cork.
More than 25 years later, Gabriel and Thea meet in Muscat, and while they seem familiar to each other, they have never met before.
Woods’ novel is full of mystery, accompanied by the fascinating ethos, history and geography of the Middle East. She allows her readers to journey through Oman as her characters do, from Old Muscat, with its narrow streets and small shops, to the 16th-century Muscat forts built during the time of the Portuguese, to the Hajjar mountain range, and Tethyan ophiolites.
Woods cleverly uses the uniquely varied landscape to add to the layers of her characters and their lives. Where there is beauty enough to make someone fall in love with Oman, there are also flash floods and dangerous desert routes that can cause harm, and sometimes death, a reminder that unpredictability is never far behind her characters.
Woods creates an atmosphere of uncertainty but also uses Oman, its culture, its language and its diverse population to make her story feel whole. Ultimately, the novel is about life and its ups and downs, its losses and gains, and the erratic paths it can take someone on, all that can end up making or breaking a person.
“Of Sea and Sand” is published by Hoopoe, an imprint of the American University in Cairo Press. Manal Shakir is the author of “Magic Within,” published by HarperCollins India.

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