Reviewed by Lindsay Denninger -

Through the Veil by Lisa Ohlen Harris

    Essays
    Canon Press - June 2010
    ISBN-13: 978-1591280705 , 228 pages, $12 (softcover)


Today's world climate features a great deal of misunderstanding, especially in regard to the Middle East. In Through the Veil, Lisa Ohlen Harris writes of the time she spent living in Damascus, Syria and Amman, Jordan. It is in these cities where Harris lived and worked as part of an ethnographic research team. In her writing, she creates a new genre, a memoir told in a series of short essays which detail her struggles in fitting in, standing out, and eventually raising a family as a Westerner in the notoriously private and closed-to-outsiders Middle East.

In "The Immigrant's Daughter," Harris compares the making of her first friend as a student in Damascus with her first friend in grade school in America. No matter the location, all it takes is one simple phrase to gain an ally: ‘Will you be my friend?' "Child of the Past" documents Harris' first impressions of Todd, a fellow researcher in Syria, a fellow stranger in a strange land who would eventually become her husband. Harris ponders the topics of sex, fertility, and children in "O Barren One," contrasting her assumptions of the lives of her neighbors with their actual practices. "City of Refuge," published in The Summerset Review's Fall 2005 issue, is set in Jordan, where Harris meets an Iraqi woman—a victim of circumstance, now a refugee.

In intertwining the tales of her native friends and neighbors in Syria and Jordan with the stories of creating and raising her own family in a foreign land, Harris lessens the perceived gap between those living in the West and those in the Middle East. Through the Veil is a work for our complicated new century, demonstrating that the ideas of love, friendship, and family remain the same through differences in religion, creed, language, and political belief.