Jemma Wayne’s 2016 book is described as ‘a novel about racism in Israel, anti-Semitism in
Britain… the first fictional address of the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis’. Phew. Not a light beach read then.
I was expecting something pretty heavyweight, given the complexity and seriousness of the subject matter. But this book was not what I expected at all.
The subject matter is indeed heavyweight, but the language and style of writing is not.
Wayne’s prose is simple, straightforward and accessible; this almost feels like a guilty
The unexpectedly light touch is refreshing, but I wonder how many of the potential readership for this book will have been put off by the gravity of the description.
Wayne is master of the cliffhanger; this is one of those books where there is never a good moment to put the book down and turn off the light. We follow the lives of our two central characters: Udi, a veteran of the Israeli army who moves to Britain, and Daniel, a prosperous London lawyer who feels a hankering to live in Israel, despite the dangers there.
They move from crisis to dilemma to crisis, in this fast-paced page-turner of a read. Wayne weaves her multiple narratives with aplomb as we move effortlessly between the Middle East and Britain,
and negotiate the complexities of how these young men feel about their culture and their
homeland, wherever that may be.
Beyond this central pair, though, the characterisation is less strong, and at times I found it hard to believe this book was written by a woman. Many of the depictions and descriptions of female characters are surprisingly one-dimensional.
Daniel and Udi, who are our eyes and ear into the story, both compare the women in their lives to each other, and primarily in terms of their relative beauty. The women either seem to be young and beautiful, with ‘pert bottoms’. Or anxious mothers.
It is true that some of the most moving moments in the whole book are around anxious
mothers struggling with the challenge of letting their children take their own path. But it
became noticeable how the majority of the female characters fit neatly into these stereotypes.
I came away from Chains Of Sand having been thoroughly entertained, with a bonus hefty
helping of insight into Israeli history and politics. I would love to know what you make of it.