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Live Each Moment Meaningfully

Rana Bitar Author Interview

The Long Tale Of Tears And Smile is more than just a memoir, it is the story of all those that came into your life.

I appreciated the candid nature with which you told your story. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

The hardest thing for me to write about in the book was my brother’s death.

What is one piece of advice someone gave you that changed your life?

What changed my life is my interpretation of Robert Frost’s lines:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from your story?

I hope that the reader will gain a new perspective on their health and lives and the value of living each moment meaningfully and to its fullest.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

The Long Tale Of Tears And Smiles explores an immigrant oncologist’s journey of triumphs and struggles, from growing up in Syria, to the tragic death of her brother, to her experiences as a young immigrant medical student and trainee in the USA. Walk through her anguish witnessing the civil war in Syria and its devastation; see her become a practitioner, watching the field of oncology evolves throughout the years.

This narrative-driven case study interweaves the stories of the patients Bitar has cared for with her own life stories; it reflects on how her patients’ lives and the stories of their survival or death inspired and changed her life starting and raising a family. Each patient’s approach to illness and end-of-life is as unique as they are, and each person’s journey contains unexpected lessons.

In the space between life and death, Bitar’s profession thrives; and in that space, she can search for the meaning of her existence.

The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles

Ranar Bitar’s The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. It follows the author’s life from childhood to the present. As an oncologist and writer, she manages to do what many people struggle with – interweaving the scientific with artistic.

She talks of her early childhood vividly and beautifully, almost as a child would, effectively transporting us to that time of her life. Having grown up in Syria and moving to the US to practice medicine in her early twenties, her story is a unique one – one that explores both the “American dream” and the true meaning of home. In the book, we see her embrace multiple facets of her identity – the Syrian, the American, the physician, and the writer. Ultimately, it is hard not to empathize with her.

The true focus of this book isn’t Rana – it’s her patients. These are the people that pull us in like a magnet. They carry heavy burdens, many struggling with gut-wrenching cancer diagnoses, some even terminal. It is hard to read how they live and sometimes die. It forces readers to confront their own mortality and that of loved ones and their complex feelings about that.

Throughout the book, we see how Rana’s different patients have coped with illness over the years and what she has learned and given to them. We read of those who used talking or humor to fill awkward silences, those who sat still in the thick of silence, those who buried themselves in work and distractions, those who broke down in tears, and those who tried to bargain with death. To say it was unsettling is an understatement – it is like staring into an abyss that you have been trying to ignore your whole life.

However, the author does an excellent job of not making this story all about sadness and suffering. Instead, she challenges readers to defy death – to look it in the eye and refuse to give it our today. She challenges readers to live each day fully and to embrace the fact that the temporary nature of our lives is what makes them precious. By interweaving her personal story of love and loss with that of her patients, she brings us in and makes us feel like we are not alone, even in death.

The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles is a beautifully-written memoir book that will tug at the heartstrings like no other. So much so that it can make you cry of both anguish and joy.

Pages: 353 | ASIN : B09BG58KCY

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Gazelle in the Shadows

Gazelle in the Shadows by [Peach, Michelle]

Based on her own life, Michelle Peach has crafted an intriguing story in Gazelle in the Shadows. Some parts of the story are fictionalized according to the author. The novel opens with Elizabeth Booth who has been kidnapped. She’s battered and bruised and not sure who is responsible. Her British diplomatic immunity does not seem to be of any use to her at the beginning of the story.

We then cut to an earlier time on a cold, rainy April day in the north of England. She is in Professor Mansfield’s office, attending school at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in Durham University. Not sure where she will succeed, she decides to enter the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a Diplomatic Service and she loves it.

Most of her life seems to have been about finding out who she is in her family. She grows up wanting to leave home and go on adventures. The point of meeting with her professor on that April day is to convince him to allow her to do her study in Damascus. She is the only student from her class going there. On the flight to Damascus, she is told by the flight attendant that there are no hotel rooms and arranges a place for her to stay.

Starting with the people on the flight, I did have to suspend disbelief somewhat to make myself believe that she could be as naïve as she was behaving. It seemed odd to me that anyone would trust a man on a flight and follow him afterward, even if he did work for the airline. It does seem to me that it would raise red flags.

She is literally a stranger in this new land and finds herself offending without meaning to. For example, when she drops bread on to the ground, she does not realize that bread is a sacred food and should never be wasted. She finds that navigating this new, strange land is not as easy as she had expected. I did love her descriptions of the exotic locale. She really brings the countryside to life with her writing.

This story is filled with mystery and suspense. This story was interesting to be because, unlike most books I’ve read, it’s about a place I knew little about when I started reading. The cultural issues that arise throughout the story are every bit as interesting as what is happening in the story. The only negative about the book is that I felt I knew what might be happening early on in the story even though I was not entirely correct. Despite that, the author has crafted a story that kept me turning pages way past my bedtime.

Pages: 327 | ASIN: B07CPX2WH5

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A Complex Culture

Sheila Flaherty Author Interview

Sheila Flaherty Author Interview

East of Mecca is beautifully written and addresses a subject that is rarely discussed. Why did you want to write about Middle Eastern culture?

I lived in Saudi Arabia for a year when my husband accepted a job with Aramco Oil Company. We lived on a company compound called Ras Tanura, located on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Within the compound were beautiful, white, sandy beaches, and flat, desert terrain filled with exotic, thorny scrubs. The sun rose every morning over the sea and set each evening over the desert. Both events were in stunning Technicolor!

Throughout my year in Saudi, I was exposed to camels, Bedouin markets, delicious food, beautiful art, jewelry, and architecture, and haunting Middle Eastern music. I even learned to belly dance!

Although we lived on the company compound, I quickly discovered the male-dominated, fundamentalist Islamic Kingdom’s rules for ex-patriot women were not so different than those for Saudi women…loose, modest clothing, driving or riding bicycles off the compound is forbidden, as is leaving the compound unless accompanied by your husband or in Aramco approved transportation.

My first day in Saudi, I was fingerprinted, photographed holding a placard with my husband’s ID number, and my passport was confiscated by Aramco. It would only be relinquished to my husband after he had applied for an exit-visa and it had been approved. I had my first panic attack when I realized I couldn’t just get a cab to the airport, board a plane, and go home.

In one day, I lost both my identity and my freedom.

As an American Clinical Psychologist not affiliated with Aramco, I had other women from the compound (American, European, Saudi and other Arab women) literally knocking on my door for counseling. I practiced secretly and illicitly (without a work-permit) the entire year I was in Saudi.

Off the compound, restrictions against women were much more apparent. Ruled by sharia law, Saudi women are required to be covered head-to-toe in black long-sleeved, ankle length cloaks called abayas, hijabs (headscarves), and face-masks called niqabs. All these were then covered with veils that render women completely invisible. Religious police called matawain patrol the streets of villages and cities arbitrarily deciding whether or not a woman (Saudi or Western) is properly dressed and properly behaved. Unless restaurants have screened off “family” sections, women are not allowed inside.

It was in Saudi, through my work with other women, where I learned firsthand about oppression and some of the other appalling conditions Saudi women face, including being under complete control of their husbands, fathers, or other males in their family, lack of personal autonomy, being forbidden to drive, honor violence, arranged marriage, child marriages…all in addition to the rigid clothing restrictions…being totally cloaked in black, even in sweltering weather.

The Middle East is a complex culture, rich in contrasts. And yet, little is written about the treatment of women in Saudi. Inspired by my own experiences and those of the women I worked with, writing East of Mecca became my passion project. I wanted to convey the exotic and the beautiful, while respectfully educating Western readers on the appalling conditions of women living under sharia law. I wanted to take readers beneath the veils that make Saudi women “invisible” and give them faces. I wanted to give a voice to those women forbidden to speak for themselves. My greatest hope is that education can lead to advocacy and action toward change.

Sarah is a fascinating character and a strong woman in her own right. What were the driving ideals behind the character’s development throughout the story?

Sarah is, first of all, devoted to her husband and children. And, with a social work background and aspirations to be a Clinical Psychologist, Sarah is a caregiver by profession and by nature. However, like most Americans, she is naïve to the experiences of others in totally different cultures. Initially, she views life in Saudi Arabia as a wise financial investment and a grand adventure. Throughout the story, with all she personally experiences and witnesses happening to other women in Saudi, especially through her relationship with Yasmeen, Sarah becomes an advocate for human rights on a much more personal level.

I truly enjoyed Yasmeen’s character and thought she brought depth and nuance to an intriguing culture. What was the inspiration for the relationship Sarah and Yasmeen have?

While it’s easy to have sympathy for people in other cultures, or those who are different from us, empathy is achieved by the ability to understand and share the feelings of another…from their perspective. To actually feel what they are feeling. My goal in creating Yasmeen’s character was to have my readers truly know her as a person, not just a face hidden behind a veil. I want them to experience her personality and empathetically relate to her joys and her struggles. The deep friendship Sarah and Yasmeen share, shows how they…and women everywhere…are the same, no matter how different their cultures might be.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I am currently working on my second novel. Orchard Road is about a Clinical Psychologist, with a very dark past, who is triggered into violence by one of her patients. The time and setting is both current day Chicago, and Singapore in the 1970’s. Since I’m still in the midst of writing, I don’t know when it’ll be published, but I’m hoping it will be available within the next two years.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

This moving and unforgettable novel, East of Mecca, tells a timely, harrowing, and heartbreaking story of love and betrayal, the transcendent power of sisterhood, and the ultimate price of oppression. Driven by financial desperation, Sarah and Max Hayes are seduced by promises of a glamorous expatriate lifestyle in Saudi Arabia. Sarah surrenders her career when Max accepts a prestigious job with Ocmara Oil Company and they relocate their family to the shores of the Persian Gulf. Locked inside the heavily-guarded Ocmara compound, Sarah becomes invisible within the male-dominated, fundamentalist, Islamic Kingdom, which is governed by sharia law. Gradually, she is drawn into a clandestine, illicit friendship with Yasmeen, a Muslim Saudi woman. Together they find freedom beneath the veils and behind the walls of the Saudi women’s quarters—until inconceivable events force Sarah to make life-or-death decisions. Told with riveting authenticity and exquisite detail, East of Mecca explores gender apartheid through the abuse of absolute power with an elegant balance of cultural nuance and moral inquiry. Long after you have turned the last page, you will be haunted by the vivid characters and powerful scenes illuminating this tour de force.

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