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Into Suez Paperback – 21 Mar 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Parthian Books (21 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190699837X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906998370
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 13.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 907,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Alfred Hickling The Guardian, Saturday 24 April 2010 Stevie Davies is one of our most consistent and continually undervalued writers whose unsentimental, quietly revelatory novels have cropped up on the Booker and Orange shortlists without ever quite converting to a major prize. Into Suez, her 11th novel, deserves to be the one that brings wider renown, as it presents the most fully realised fusion of her personal and political histories to date. Into Suez by Stevie Davies 448pp, Parthian, GBP11.99 Buy Into Suez at the Guardian bookshop The idea for the book came while taking part in the 2003 protest in London against the Iraq war. Listening to the speeches in Hyde Park, Davies was reminded of Aneurin Bevan's words calling for a resolution to the Suez crisis in 1956: "The prime minister has been pretending that he has invaded Egypt in order to strengthen the United Nations. Every burglar could of course say the same thing, that he entered the house in order to train the police." Suez could be seen as the blueprint for every instance of disastrously mishandled Middle Eastern policy that followed. In Davies's story, Ailsa is an intelligent, self-sufficient young woman from the Welsh valleys who, accompanied by her young daughter Nia, sails out in 1947 to join her husband who is serving in the RAF at Ismalia in the Western Desert. Life in the world's largest military installation has some compensations, such as unrationed cherries in the company store. But the salt marshes of Suez are pitilessly inhospitable - "a lunar landscape as flat as Suffolk and sterile as death" - which leaves Ailsa to wonder "how many Arab labourers died to dig this ... ditch the Roberts family was arriving to defend as somehow British as the Manchester ship canal"? Wives of the rank and file are expected to keep their heads down and confine themselves to quarters. Yet Ailsa is spellbound by a sophisticated, dark-skinned concert pianist named Mona with whom she forms an attachment on the boat. Mona's husband is an Israeli army psychologist, which leads Ailsa to assume Mona must be Jewish; yet it transpires that she is an exiled Palestinian Arab. Also on the voyage is a young German refugee travelling to be reunited with her British husband and a querulous Welsh woman whose hostility towards anything foreign encapsulates the narrow, British fear of displacement. It's a cast of characters whose nationalities and circumstances are as confused and combustible as Suez itself; and though the story culminates in a distressingly well-executed denouement, Davies's main theme is what occurs when protocols are breached and privates' wives drawn into unguarded intimacy with the officer class. "What was Ailsa guilty of? Just getting out of line. Being, not even a black sheep, but a piebald sort of sheep in a field of whitish fleeces." As the daughter of an RAF officer herself, Davies has firsthand experience of being shunted round the remnants of empire: "The war had beggared and bankrupted Britain. We'd scuttled out of India and Palestine and we'd have to scuttle out of the rest of the Middle East. Scuttling was all we were good for." Davies first dealt with the traumas of being a bullied army child in 2001's The Element of Water; and her picture of the cruel indifference and blind prejudice of the British occupation of Egypt seems to have been further honed by her understanding of the average British forces boarding school. Davies frames the historical action with the contemporary account of Nia, who travels back to Egypt to meet her mother's friend Mona, still a celebrated and charismatic concert pianist in her old age. Nia's recollection of the 1950s is fragmentary, but formed of vivid impressions such as the sight of "stricken animals bleeding in the water". In one of the novel's most memorable scenes, we discover how bored British troops sailing to Suez used porpoises as target practice. "Ordered to do so, someone said. Uproar. Barbarians! Oh God, porpoises are only fish. Get a grip. Don't you eat fish and chips then?" It has to be pointed out to them that the creatures are warm-blooded mammals, like ourselves. But the incident serves as an example of Davies's remarkable ability to encapsulate imperial wrong-headedness in a single, indelibly recorded incident: cynical, gratuitous - neither sense nor purpose

About the Author

Stevie Davies was born in Swansea, Wales and spent a nomadic childhood in Egypt, Scotland and Germany. After studying at Manchester University, she went on to lecture there, returning to Swansea in 2001. She is Director of Creative Writing Swansea University. Stevie is both a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Welsh Academy.She writes for the Guardian and Independent newspapers. INTO SUEZ is her eleventh novel. Her first, BOY BLUE (1987) won the Fawcett Society Book Prize in 1989. CLOSING THE BOOK (1994) was longlisted for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Fawcett Society Book Prize. Her fifth novel, FOUR DREAMERS AND EMILY, described as 'poignant, funny and luminous' by Helen Dunmore, was published in 1996. THE WEB OF BELONGING (1997) was shortlisted for the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Prize and the Portico prize and dramatized for ITV by Alan Plater. Her next novel, IMPASSIONED CLAY (1999) was also shortlisted for the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Award. Her eighth novel, THE ELEMENT OF WATER (2001), was longlisted both for the Booker and the Orange Prizes and won the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Award for 2002; Stevie adapted it as a radio play for BBC Radio 4. Her ninth novel, KITH AND KIN was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the film rights have been bought. THE EYRIE was published in 2007, to great acclaim. Stevie has also written thirteen books of literary criticism and history including UNBRIDLED SPIRITS: WOMEN OF THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION (1998). A CENTURY OF TROUBLES: ENGLAND 1600-1700 (2001) accompanied the Channel 4 series of documentary films about the century.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Optimistic Blue on 12 April 2010
Format: Hardcover
Usually a reader of more mainstream mass marketed adventure novels which have some links to historical fact: think Brown, Gibbins et al - I was delighted to discover this absolute gem of a novel. Intrigued by the setting and double narrative, I purchased the book and wasn't disappointed.

I must start by expressing one important truth: Davies' writing is flawless - quite simply in a different league to any of my usual reads. This was a refreshing experience - every word had it's place, the narrative flowed freely, painting beautiful pictures of Egypt, stirring every conceivable emotion from the depths, the plot gripping and not relenting until the last word. And the book did not finish when I put it down, I was left wracked with emotion, my senses assaulted, a feeling that stayed with me for days afterwards. Such is the quality of the characterisation that every delicious and sometimes painful plot twist and change in relationship really mattered - I have never cared about, empathised and sympathised with or understood characters so much as I did with 'Into Suez's' Ailsa and Joe. I have read a few novels with double narratives and always cared more for one time frame than the other. I have been guilty of skimming through chapters just to get back to the favoured narrative - I am delighted to say this is NOT the case here! Both narratives are of equal value and are integral to the book; they exist to enhance each other. We explore Egypt during the run up to the Suez Crises of the 1950's through the eyes of a newly married and adventurous Ailsa and her young and equally spirited and tender daughter Nia...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Howdle on 7 April 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Into Suez
"Into Suez" is a novel that balances panorama and intimacy. The greatest achievement of this novel is how it to combines the historical Suez crisis with the private history of its characters, such that the larger picture and the smaller picture exist seamlessly together. The novel narrates the life of Ailsa, a strong-minded woman, and how her life in Egypt enlarges her experiences of life. A double narrative runs throughout: Ailsa's Egypt, much of it experienced through her daughter Nia, and Nia's return to Egypt to meet Mona Serafin, a mystical, creative artist who shared an intense and deep relationship with Ailsa. Often, double narratives can be contrived. "Into Suez", however, is structured with technical skill and the result is a breathtaking, natural narrative. Throughout the works of Stevie Davies there is fascination with the daughter-mother bond, the myth of Persephone-Demeter, and how this challenges a modern, patriarchal world that values Hades: violence, war and the rape of civilisations rather than human love and rapture. The prose style of "Into Suez" is lyrical and hard-hitting. And just as Mona Serafin, is a pianist of great intelligence, so the author of this novel is a writer capable of complex key changes and tonalities. "Into Suez" is meticulously researched: historical fact is transmuted into a novel that channels, like the Suez canal, a complex world of human feelings. This novel changes the reader, as a great novel should.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. L. Williams on 14 April 2010
Format: Hardcover
Stevie Davies always writes quality fiction of substance and in my view she has excelled herself with Into Suez. This is a fast-moving and cracking good yarn, into which have been deftly weaved a number of interesting socio-political themes that held me rapt from start to finish. I couldn't put it down, for it is both daring and moving. Not for the lily-livered, but if you enjoy fiction that you can really get your teeth into try this one.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Collen on 4 Aug 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have no hesitation in awarding Into Suez by Stevie Davies 5 stars. Without any doubt,it's the best book I've read in 2012. The Suez Crisis was something that I knew very little about and the novel is extremely informative on the politics of the time.However, her research never gets in the way of this page turner and she is able to hold the reader's attention throughout. There are many well drawn characters in the book and because they are often very complex, you are never sure how they will react under pressure. It's a real emotional roller coaster and many of the scenes are disturbing and not for the faint hearted. The relationship between Ailsa and Joe is far from straightforward and yet, I never doubted their love for one another. Stevie Davies is an excellent writer and some of her descriptions of Egypt are truly beautiful. Book groups would find plenty to discuss - the historical background of Suez and the Arab/Israeli conflict, racism, the role of women in post-war society and class distinctions within army life. I loved it!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Kahn on 14 April 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Into Suez" was written by a masterful hand--one capable of balancing brutal honesty with the most delicate insight into human emotion. This book has a raw power to it, a visceral realism. The experience of reading this book was so intense that I found myself several times almost wanting to put the book down, to look away--and yet every time I couldn't--I was compelled to keep going because I felt such sympathy with the characters. Ailsa, Nia, Joe, and Mona are vivid, complicated, living out their parts of a story much larger than any of them. It is a romance, a history, a mystery. Davies finds a way in to the vast complexities of colonialism, war, and prejudice without ever for a moment letting us forget that here are real people who love and grieve.
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