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on 17 March 2014
Needed some books for my travel and this was one of many I chose. enjoyed it very much.Looking forward to reading more Sue Eckstein
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on 14 January 2014
A beautifully written and considered read. It will remain in your thoughts for some time. and if you like happy endings it did have one of a sort.
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on 2 August 2009
This was such a good read. The story intertwines a number of stories spanning Africa and the UK, all of which contain unexpected and touching twists and turns. The writing is full of wit and insight. In its depiction of a range of characters and their different reactions to love and personal tragedy, the book quietly overturns stereotyped views of ex-pat life, offering one which is funny, touching and, I suspect, rarely told. Highly recommended - I'm looking forward to the next one from this author.
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on 5 April 2011
Sue writes with the insight of one who has ridden the rough roads of this corner of West Africa, and sat with her characters drinking wine beneath an equatorial night-sky; the expat community is finely drawn through sharp dialogue, a generous portrayal of failings and frailties, and an astute eye for the humour underlying the mundane as well as the bizarre.

If you've ever lived abroad, especially in a developing country, read this book as it will transport you to a time and place that will resonate; if not, then simply enjoy the rich evocation of setting, the compelling personal journeys of the protagonists and this debut novelist's skilful mastery of the form.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 January 2014
First published in 2009 - a first novel - The Cloths of Heaven is a definite winner...

Sue Eckstein used to live in The Gambia and the book is about life in an unspecified West African country - not hard to guess which. It is set in the 90s and its execution is reminiscent of either Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh... two of my favourite authors. It is the Africa of ex-pats and the FCO. Larger than life characters that lead a charmed life away from the restrictions of UK suburbia where most of them probably belong. Isabel and Patrick Redmond - with Patrick's obsession for writing poetry and photographing `pendulous black breasts', Isabel tolerant as she can be of his foibles. Then there are the High Commissioner (Alec) and his wife Fenella - both engaged in steamy extra marital affairs. And Bob Newman, a buffoon like character, engaged on planning a time share in the middle of nowhere. Plus Father Seamus, a Catholic priest who doesn't quite follow all his vows. You probably get the idea...

Into this environment comes Daniel, a sensitive recruit to the FCO. Daniel is not one for the goings on and the social occasions. He prefers getting to know the `natives' and looks for places to visit that are a fair distance from his High Commission colleagues. He encounters Rachel, a white girl and a mysterious cutter and seller of cloth in a local warehouse. And hereby hangs a tale...

The story line of The Cloths of Heaven is okay... probably no more. But there is pure delight in the drawing of the characters and in their interaction - and I am sure this is what the book is about. They are all larger than life and all fit together perfectly in a strange mosaic. The Gambia (sorry, an anonymous West African country...) is a star of the book. From the steamy and oppressive heat to the descriptions of the tourists who fly in for a cheap two weeks on a beach - and return home with the obligatory carved elephant (an animal, of course, never seen in this part of Africa).

Sue Eckstein sadly died in 2013 - and the edition of The Clothes of Heaven that I read is a new one, I suspect re-issued to mark the event. I have not read, but now will, her second novel - Interpreters published in 2011. Interpreters is a very different book - about the experiences of a woman in early wartime Germany and the impact that events then had on her later family.

Sue Eckstein was a very talented writer and observer of people. She will be missed.
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on 8 April 2009
When I first picked up my copy of `The Cloths of Heaven' I did not really know what to expect. As I started to read it I was reminded of the story of 'White Mischief' by James Fox as it had a similar undercurrent of affairs which ended in a much more brutal way in the Fox novel. `The Cloths of Heaven', however, has a story all of its own and the reader feels compelled to finish in order to tie up the loose ends of a flow of several stories running alongside each other. The reader needs the answers to such questions as what is Bob Newpin's fate, what is the mystery surrounding Rachel?

This brief glimpse into the lives of the post-colonial ex-pat experience is fascinating to read about, and in some cases difficult to believe in 2009. The novel portrays a real cocktail of ex-pat life and intrigue which is not only absorbing, but delightfully written by the author.

Such a little gem to keep on the bookshelf

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on 1 June 2009
Steamy and scandalous! So this is what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of those upright, uptight faces that West Africans like me encounter at visa offices and foreign missions, eh? An enjoyable read, Sue Eckstein does an excellent job of capturing the African setting while challenging our beliefs and values, our ideas of love, sexuality, betrayal and fidelity.
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on 6 April 2011
The reader is instantly transported into another world and the sights and sounds of Africa. Sue Eckstein speaks with a completely convincing sense of place and people. She has a gift for dialogue which brings an extraordinary group of characters off the page, fully formed, into the reader's visual imagination. At the heart of her story lies a mystery. A cleverly constructed novel that draws two time lines together into a surprising twist at the end.
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on 7 May 2011
If you're an Armistead Maupin fan, you'll love this novel: it's got West Africa (rather than San Francisco), warm-scented and busy on the page; it has a gorgeously satisfying variety of characters- some you'll loathe with incandescent rage; some you'll like so much, you'll wish they could be friends on Facebook. . There's something very real and affecting about these people- and there are moments when it is laugh-out-loud funny. Eckstein's brilliant at dialogue and her narrative style is pacey and engaging: a godsend for those of us looking for something that bridges the gap between the gravitas of the `Booker' nominees and the gallop of a damn good bestseller. MORE PLEASE!
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on 2 April 2009
The Cloths of Heaven is a really entertaining and compelling book. Set in West Africa it has a great cast of characters, witty dialogue, a vivid setting. Very funny but also an interesting and revealing insight into ex-pat and volunteer life.

Sue Eckstein takes us into the world of VSO and the High Commission exploring a series of contrasting relationships between the characters and with the country. The whole thing is held together by a strong and unexpected narrative.

Sadly this is Sue Eckstein's first book so you can't rush out and read more - I really wanted the story to go on and to know even more about these characters.
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