Thursday 9 June 2016

1001: The Qaraq by Stephen Weinstock

Sahara Fleming experiences disturbing visions. One is a lifetime as a Red Isle goddess harboring a deadly grudge. Another gives her an uncomfortably intimate view of a fourth century Persian orgy. Sahara suspects these images are more than vivid hallucinations, but she dismisses them as stress. She's four months pregnant and married to Amar, an emotionally aggressive stockbroker unwilling to be a father.

When a mysterious circle of neighbors plants clues about her visions, Sahara realizes their true meaning. Sahara and her neighbors are a qaraq, a group of intertwined souls who come together lifetime after lifetime. Invited to the group's secretive meetings, Sahara hears their stories and learns her stormy marriage goes back centuries.

Like a modern day Scheherazade attempting to save her marriage, Sahara shares the past life stories with Amar. But as her karmic knowledge grows, so does Amar's jealousy. She must abandon the qaraq or risk losing her family.

Goodreads description

This novel is a puzzle. I don't mean it is difficult to understand, but rather that in reading the book you find yourself joining Sahara and her qaraq friends in trying to puzzle out what the visions mean and how they connect. You might like to make notes, as there are lots of visions spread over many centuries and indeed millenia. It is not always clear who is who, as some names change, nor is it always clear whose visions are being related, but that is part of the puzzle. And moreover as Sahara and the Qaraq are also solving the puzzle you do not get lost (unless the author wants you to). 

Stephen Weinstock acknowledges his debt to the Arabian Nights, which influences both some of the stories and the structure. The first story directly references Scheherezade (with Sahara as Scherezade). There are seventy-seven stories in total, so this is a long book and the first in a series of eleven, with a total of 1001 chapters. Stephen Weinstock has set himself a serious task, especially as the stories have different narrative voices and styles according to the person recalling and recounting them. I will be interested to see if he manages to sustain it over eleven books. 

Then there is the story of Sahara and the other members of the qaraq. For me the book is more satisfying as a series of stories, than as a story about a woman in a stormy marriage.

If you are interested in story telling, puzzles, reincarnation, and kharma, this is a book for you.

I received this book free from the author (he is a member of the Magic Realism Books Facebook Group) in return for a fair review.

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