Review by Joey Madia
Four months ago I was introduced to Fleur Robins, with whom I fell instantly in love. Not romantically, understand, but as a father who wants to protect a curious and brilliant, although socially and emotionally challenged, young woman from the darkness in the world, while wanting her to bathe immersively and unabashedly in the light of it as well.
Perhaps it is the recent event of my only daughter’s eighteenth birthday, and her starting her senior year of high school as I write this. Perhaps it is the dancing whirl of contradictions that are her chosen isolation and digital world-traveling, her emotional and social strengths and weaknesses, her brilliance and naïveté and her own journey into the darkness and re-entrance into the light that make me invest so heavily in Fleur’s adventures.
This is to take nothing away from Sharon Heath, who writes with a power and honesty that draws me in and makes me laugh out loud and flinch in pain—often within the span of a page, or a paragraph.
In the interest of space, I encourage you to read my review of the first book, and, better yet—read the book itself.
Book 2 opens just past Fleur’s 21st birthday. Fleur’s quantum physics team at Caltech is hard at work on developing her Nobel Prize–winning theories and she is engaged to Assefa, a medical student at USC whose father has gone missing while trying to find the temple in Ethiopia where the fabled Ark of the Covenant is said to be kept. This is a much-changed Fleur and a much changed tone. Tizita [which is the “interplay of memory, loss, and longing” often conveyed in Ethiopian or Eritrean music or song”] is a hard book to get through. As the United States enters a pronounced phase of division over color, gender, and historical memory, all of these subjects and more send poor Fleur flapping and pinching into the void with rapidity and intensity. Her social and emotional challenges scream their depth during her sexual encounters, as they did in Book 1. As she worries over possible pregnancy and judges her admittedly questionable taste in men, I felt my tension rise.
Another difference between Books 1 and 2 are the added Assefa point-of-view chapters as he travels to and meets old friends and memory-demons in Ethiopia. Not only does this device give us insight into what he experiences while he is away, it also complicates the reader’s feelings toward Assefa. Because I care so much for Fleur, there were times that I actively disliked and wished him away. Even wished him ill. But because I knew the context of his life, through his back story and current experiences, it was incredibly hard, despite his negative actions. There is a valuable lesson here about why good storytelling just might save the world. I found myself at odds more than once with my out-sized reactions to Assefa’s actions and defending mentally the actions of others toward him. But then it was clear—it was a contest between my love of Fleur and my sympathy for him. I am sure this is exactly what Heath was going for. Kudos to her for succeeding.
Through her many adventures, including a trip to Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee institute in Gombe National Park to see her physics team’s former mascot, Hanuman, Fleur widens her worldview and learns that everyone truly has a void of their own. It is through that knowledge that she is able to forgive Assefa, others in her life, and perhaps even herself.
It is this macro/micro dynamic that drives Tizita—a natural progression given Fleur’s big-scope physics interests and her entrance into adulthood. Each macro event is linked to several micro ones. The assault against women and children in war-torn Ethiopia is sobering stuff. Thru the character of Makeda—the foil for Fleur and Assefa’s engagement—we see that there are all kinds of ways to change the world. Some are as simple as holding a dying child in its last moments on Earth, unflinchingly looking into its eyes to let him or her know they are loved.
Tizita asks the tough questions, calling upon the series’ engaging cast of support characters to serve as the moral “chorus” for Fleur’s philosophical navigation as well as doing some of the heavy lifting on their own. The complex character of physics professor Stanley Fiske is a good example, as is Fleur’s best friend’s Jewish boyfriend, Jacob. Their commentaries and self-assessments are facets to a diamond that shines with the biggest issues of our time.
Like Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings, the most vulnerable character in Heath’s artfully constructed world, Fleur herself, is our best chance for the (at least partial) salvation that comes with understanding after a struggle.
We cannot help but root for Fleur as we try to root for ourselves.
AUTHOR: Sharon Heath
TITLE: Tizita, The Fleur Trilogy, Book 2
PUBLISHER: Thomas-Jacob Publishing