Gazelle in the Shadows by Michelle Peach

★★★★  Elizabeth Booth is looking for a chance to restart her life when she is unexpectedly accepted into the Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University. The quiet daughter of two strictly religious parents, Elizabeth’s traditional English childhood has prepared her for little more than an early marriage, two kids, and a house to keep tidy. Searching for something more and hoping to put her diplomatic experience to positive use, she embarks on a dangerous new adventure in Syria during the late twentieth century. As the only student sent to war-torn Syria from her university, Elizabeth is thrown into a culture she has only learned about in the classroom. She quickly finds friendship and a burning love among a mysterious group of Syrians who have much to hide from her. As their motives become clear and her lover, Hussain, grows more demanding and controlling, Elizabeth flees and finds comfort with other European students studying in her program. Her freedom does not last long as the Syrian government is wary of her diplomatic and secret intelligence background. Once captured and betrayed by her lover, she must make a desperate attempt to flee or pay with her life.

Michelle Peach brings Syrian culture and cityscapes to life with her descriptions and characters. The reader can feel Elizabeth’s excitement and nervousness as she encounters new people, places, and foods. As Elizabeth becomes more comfortable in her new home, the characters reveal the triumphs, tragedies, and everyday life of the Syrian people. Truthfully, Elizabeth’s character does seem too naïve for the experience she must have gained during her diplomatic years and her intelligence connections, and her ignorance of basic elements of Islam and Middle Eastern culture does not match her education and background. Additionally, the novel sometimes adopts a very Western view of the Middle East, in which Elizabeth is only safe among her European friends. Still, the author is able to accurately capture a specific moment in Middle Eastern history that still has ramifications on modern-day Syrians. For those looking for a glimpse into new cultures with a taste of a spy thriller, Gazelle in the Shadows will both warm your heart and send shivers down your spine.

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