Reviewer Karen Dahood : Karen lives in Tucson, AZ. After 35 years as a writer for businesses and nonprofits, she has turned to writing mysteries,the subtext of which addresses ageism, unpreparedness for aging, and America's wealth of experience and wisdom. Learn more about eldersleuth Sophie George at the Website Moxie Cosmos; Making Sense of Life Through Writing.
Publisher: Global Impact Publishers, 2014
ISBN: 13: 978-0-615-99640-0
The title describes what it takes to raise a quarter million dollars for charity. This is one good reason to have this novel on your bookshelf. Another is that it presents Dubai in a very different light from what other writers have depicted of this Persian Gulf boom town in the United Arab Emirates.
To change our minds about the flamboyant city of less than two million -- 70% men and 75% expats -- seems to be the purpose of this author. Kay Tejani, an educator, recognizes that it is over-the-top (literally) architecture that sticks in most readers’ minds when we think about Dubai. It has the tallest skyscraper in the world at the moment, and no doubt will build one taller if there is a challenger. Last year an architecture critic suggested Dubai’s leaders exhibit bad taste, and that their construction triumphs are undercut by infrastructure that is primitive. You’ll get a very different portrait here.
The novel’s heroine works and lives in a Dubai amongst new office and apartment towers and world-class hotels that are gorgeously appointed, but not too flashy. They express the very best in the local cultures. Her mostly Muslim community is a mix of nationalities in a variety of traditional and contemporary costumes, attractive, ultra-polite, thoughtful of staff. (Real-life Dubai has the second most expensive hotels in the world and has been cited for inhumane labor practices.)
I had just come out of a fictional world of very sophisticated English adults who had been “Raj orphans” in the 1940s, i.e., born to ex-pats in India and sent off to boarding schools, so my first impression of POWER AND PASSION was that, though well written, it seemed awfully “goody-two-shoes.” Sara Sharif works as an events planner for Special Olympics and her friends are philanthropists or well-connected people willing to give others a hand. The plot revolves around Sara’s challenge to bring attention as well as funds to the SO organization, not so well known in Middle East. Her crisis is a sudden loss of the sponsor. Momentum comes from the timeline it takes to conceive and plan a gala and then make it happen. The characters grow, most notably in a trio of women who establish that there is nothing more rewarding in life than helping others.
Tejani supplies much fascinating detail, such as the news that camel milk chocolate is the best there is and highest in nutrients. We learn that Middle Eastern women who are educated and ambitious still worry about having to handle two-thirds of the housework. In one chapter, young couples are taken on a safari to glistening sand dunes where they are seated on carpets under white tents to enjoy wonderful Arabian food and entertainment, including sand-skiing – which almost tops that most famous Dubai activity, taking to the five ski slopes maintained inside a mall. (Look it up. You can have “penguin encounters, and winter clothes are handed out with the price of admission.) Tejani provides insights to local flower-arranging, family evenings in an apartment tower, high-pressure office culture, 5-star hotel breakfast pastries. We learn the protocols of charity work. And romance.
Most interesting to me was the polite yet sincere “small talk’ that precedes serious networking, apparently typical among these people who are dealing with a rapidly evolving society, one that has seen plenty of ups and downs since oil became a commodity in the 1960s. Tourism is flourishing, as one might imagine, and yet business is still conducted with a high degree of formality.
This is a novel hard to peg, but I think Tejani is quite convincing in making her point that people making money from development are not all greedy, and that there has to be more than night after night of lavish banquets in luxurious surroundings to make our lives worthwhile.