A woman and her beloved Syrian father, separated forty years earlier when he is swept up in a geopolitical odyssey from hell, are almost reunited by a lawyer struggling to save his Illinois hometown from financial ruin.
The unflinching story of an American-Arab’s life in limbo.
Tricked by the two people closest to him, Elias Haddad leaves his beloved daughter Cheryl Halia for what he believes is a short trip home to Syria to visit his dying father. Largely ignorant of Middle East politics, Elias is detained upon arrival in Damascus and conscripted into Assad’s army, beginning a forty-year geopolitical odyssey from hell which culminates in his captivity in Guantanamo during America’s post-9/11 War on Terror.
In her search for her father, Cheryl meets John Veranda, an idealistic lawyer who risks his family’s land, his marriage, and his aspirations for his hometown’s future for a relationship with Cheryl neither are prepared for.
Stuart Eisenstat, a dedicated federal bureaucrat, thinks he’s doing an old friend a favor when he picks John’s hometown as the perfect site for relocating Guantanamo detainees only to come face to face with the personal cost of America’s global ambitions.
Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: Blank Slate Press (March 6, 2018)
Publisher: Blank Slate Press (March 6, 2018)
The plot of The Moment Before is what made me sign up for the book tour. I think any chance to personalize the immigrant experience and help us see the very real individual people and families that are behind broad sweeping political decisions. The Moment Before focuses much of the story on a father, Elias Haddad, who against the wishes of the family that sent him away from Syria and to the U.S. as a young man to keep him safe, attempts to return to visit his ailing father. He doesn't make it, being immediately detained in Damascus, forced into Assad's army, and then tossed around, country to country, as a prisoner before ending up in Guantanamo. Meanwhile, his daughter Cheryl, grows up without him, alone with her cold mother who doesn't seem to want to do anything to find Elias. Cheryl reaches out to several people to find her father--including a young attorney, John Veranda, working for a senator, who she later crosses path with again.
I don't want to go into a lot of the plot details as there is a lot going on in the book and I think it would involve spoilers for some of the drama. In addition to Cheryl, Elias, and John, we get the stories and perspectives of John's friend & DOHS contractor, Cheryl's mother, and Father Moody--a friend of the family who got a young Elias into the U.S. and may be involved in his disappearance. It does get a bit convoluted between the different perspectives and the back and forth in time from 1959 through 2012 as the story is woven together. I found myself frequently checking back to the chapter headings with the dates to understand where I was in time. I was pulled more to the stories of Cheryl and Elias, they are the most poignant and my heart broke for both of them. Other characters and their actions made me very angry, and some sections although they added to how everything comes together, just weren't quite as interesting.
The Moment Before is not always an easy read--both in complexity and subject matter--primarily the injustice of Elias's experience and what it does to his family. It is a book that made me think and is both timely and relevant. There is beauty, sorrow, and hope in Jason Makansi's writing and this story hasn't left my mind since I finished it.
Author Notes: Jason Makansi, author of four non-fiction books relating to business, energy/environmental issues, and mathematical modeling, has published short stories in a variety of literary journals and collections. He is a 2009 alumnus of the Sewanee Writers Conference, has reviewed short story collections for The Short Review, and is currently a contributing editor for River Styx literary journal and Associate Editor for December literary magazine. In his spare time, he plays the viola in community orchestras, plays piano for fun, and rides his bike as often as he can. The Moment Before is his first novel.
There's not a lot of food focus in The Moment Before, but there are some mentions that stand out--particularly the baklava that Cheryl makes with her father--their special ritual. There's also the stuffed grape leaves and stuffed cabbage, shish kabobs, and fruits she and her father enjoy. Even years after he has disappeared, his coat smells of za'atar. There is mention of more grape leaves and hummus, served at a meeting. Cheryl works at a diner known for their sodas, ice cream, hamburgers and French fries and chocolate milkshakes. Other food mentioned included coffee, beer, punch, multiple types of kibbe, pizza, iced mochas, and bread.
I didn't have the time or patience to make baklava or stuffed grape leaves this week--I needed something quick and simple and decided to pick a dish with flavors and spices of Syria and the Middle East so I turned to Sirocco: Fabulous Flavors From the Middle East by Sabrina Ghayour. There were plenty of recipes to choose from, but I saw the Sweet-Spiced Roasted Nuts and was happy to see them use Aleppo pepper--since I just happen to have a jar and like the gentler heat they lend. I am a huge fan of nuts and spiced nuts for snacks, so while not directly related to the book, this dish seems to fit. (Just snack one handed if you are reading while enjoying these nuts--they are a bit messy!)
Ghayour says "We produce a huge variety of nuts in Iran and I really love snacking on them--although I find myself eating way too many at times. We don't roast them with seasonings as is done in the West, but I do like spicy, sticky coatings on any kind of nut. These spicy nuts are a great snack, added to salads and even chopped up and sprinkled over desserts."
Sweet-Spiced Roasted Nuts
From Sirocco by Sabrina Ghayour
2 1/4 cups raw nuts of choice (I used cashews, almonds, pecans & walnuts)
4 Tbsp melted butter
4 Tbsp brown sugar
good squeeze of lemon juice
2 Tbsp Aleppo pepper
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place nuts on the sheet and toast for 10 minutes.
Put the melted butter in a bowl, add the sugar, lemon juice, spices and a generous sprinkling of salt and mix well. Add the toasted nuts. Coat the nuts well in the mixture, stirring to break up any clumps of sugar or spice. Once they are evenly coated, place the nuts back on the baking sheet and toast for another 5 minutes. Using a spoon, turn the nuts, then return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly before serving. Once fully cooked, they can be stored in a glass jar or another airtight container in a cool, dry place, but should be consumed within a few days.
Notes/Results: These nuts are so good! A friend once told me that she thinks of spiced nuts as fall and winter treats but these with their sweet-salty mix and gentle boost of heat (not mouth-burning, it just gets you in the back of the throat a bit) are perfect year round. Sabrina Ghayour serves them with iced hibiscus tea (pictured is iced Hibiscus Coconut Tea from The Republic of Tea--one of my favorites), but I think they would go well with a cold crisp wine, any iced tea, a cocktail or beer. I will definitely make these again--they are downright addicting.
I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "The Moment Before" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.