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Staircase of a Thousand Steps Paperback – May 7, 2002
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Perceptive, touching...rings true with the inner voice of poetic truth. I would not have missed reading it for anything. -- Stephen Herold, The Seattle Press, Aug 15, 2002
Poetic and convincing story of mysticism amid earthly joy and sorrow...where past and future are tantalizingly present. -- KLIATT (bi-monthly review magazine, 2002, Everett, Mass.)
About the Author
For nearly ten years, Masha Hamilton worked for the Associated Press as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East and then as Moscow correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. She also wrote a newspaper column from Moscow and reported for NBC/Mutual Radio. Hamilton now lives in the Arizona desert.
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Jammana wishes to see her grandfather, drawn to him by recurring dream's of her mother's difficult birth. Soon to leave Egypt for America, Rafa, takes her daughter across the desert miles for a last visit. She leaves Jammana in the care of her grandfather, Harif, and her great-aunt Khalah, of the gentle hands, as well as the village midwife, Faridah, who assisted in Rafa's delivery many years ago. The midwife is the one person Jammana secretly wants to question, because Faridah is also in the dream and Jammana had known and loved her all her young life. The very familiarity of Faridah is comforting to the child, her smells, her habits, her gathering of herbs to treat villager's ailments.
When Harif's wife dies during her second confinement, Harif is at last free to be with the true and lasting love of his heart. Harif will be ostracized by this union of unequals, so, sacrificing her future, Faridah refuses his offer; they remain dear friends, but never man and wife. Over the years their bonds strengthen, allowing them a closeness that they treasure.
But there is trouble brewing in this small village, as the ancestors seem to crowd upon their living relatives, and secrets are uncovered while old hostilities are rekindled. Ein Fadr is beset with petty complaints and jealousies and Harif finds himself accused of duplicity and no longer trusted. But he has troubles of his own, too preoccupied to worry about gossip, as the tension increases. Jammana continues to be haunted by her vivid dreams, anxious for Faridah and her grandfather, confused by the unsettled air of the village, where time passes but nothing changes. Finally, for Harif and Jammana everything changes, as the hot desert sun holds everything motionless in its fierce and unflinching gaze.
I just finished re-reading "Staircase" and it is even more beautiful than I recalled. Hamilton is a wordsmith of such rarity that I consider her among the finest living writers. Her language is never ornate, but her word choice makes this book a MUST for anyone trying to write fiction. She knows more about how to tell a story than any first time novelist has a right to know: about plot, about character development, about how to choose the precise and elegant word.
People, BUY this book in paperback, it's an exquisite journey, a trip into another world, one that few have access to any longer. TRULY 5 Stars. So glad that the Number One Customer Reviewer, Ms. Klausner posted here. She's obviously a good reader and she loves this book. As did every professional critic. And ditto over here, a voracious reader.
I was attracted to this book because it seemed to promise insight into a culture I know so little about and it does that, there is an intimate look into the hearts and minds of several of the villagers. There is not much of real plot here though, rather most of this story is a child's memory. After the magic of childhood the ending seems all too realistic and I was quite saddened by what became of Jammana's mother and father after all of it.
Hamiliton does a wonderful job of setting a sense of place and creates dreamy, mesmerizing characters. She also shows how the women--seemingly powerless--exert a strong command over small villages.
Although I think the mystery portion of this book was never fully realized, I believe it is a splendid look at how women function and even flourish in a changing, evolving world.
I look forward to her next book!
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