Thank you to the lovely people at Simon Books for my copy of Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. All thoughts and images are my own.
Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)
Alice, a young editor living in New York City during the early days of the Iraq War begins a surprising and tender affair with the famous older writer Ezra Blazer. Locked in a holding room at Heathrow Airport in late 2008, the practical economist Amar, raised in Brooklyn but on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is interrogated by immigration officials and reflects on his past. Years later still, a BBC journalist conducts an interview with Blazer about life, love, and legacy. How do these moments connect? How do these characters impact one another’s lives?
A stunning novel by Whiting Award winner and rising literary star Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry explores and challenges the imbalances that strike and sustain us – from age and power to geography and justice – and the ways in which we try to find our place in the world. With astounding prose and remarkable insight, Halliday transforms three seemingly disparate narratives into a rich and riveting story of love, luck, and the inextricability of life and art. Funny and compassionate, timely and alive, Asymmetry is an experience readers won’t soon forget.
I loved this novel – if you can call it that. Collection of three novellas may be more appropriate, though they are tied together with similar themes, giving a sense of cohesion that seems novel-esque. The most obvious example of this is the political setting of the first two sections, with the Iraq war serving as a backdrop for both (a more distant backdrop for the first story). However, Halliday relates the seemingly disparate stories through less obvious mechanisms as well. For instance, the power of music is present in each of the three parts. Ezra lends Alice CDs and educates her on his favorite works. Amar talks of the role the piano played in his family, both in the past and in the present. And the third section is an interview in which Ezra reviews his lifetime through records he loved (which sounds like a brilliant idea for a radio show and something I would absolutely listen to).
The way Halliday weaves these stories together illustrates how similar we all are, despite what a first impression might tell you. This book will make you chuckle and it will force you to think. It’ll tug at your preconceived notions of the Middle East, at what the word “tomorrow” means in different contexts, at what forms love can take. It is thoughtfully constructed and artfully written. I would highly recommend Asymmetry.