Title: The Tower
Author: Shereen Malherbe
Publisher: Beacon Books
Publication Date: April 17th 2019
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟
Reem is a Syrian refugee who has arrived in London, trying to discover the whereabouts of her 10-year old brother, Adar. Obsessed with history and consumed by her fragmented memories of home, Reem is also hiding secrets she hopes will never be revealed.
After being placed in a tower block, she befriends Leah; a single mother who has been forced to leave her expensive South Kensington townhouse. Their unlikely friendship supports them as they attempt to find their place in a relentless, heaving city, and come to terms with the homes they left behind.
Both bold and timely, The Tower shows how Reem and Leah’s lives change and intersect in the wake of individual and communal tragedy, as well as in their struggle to adapt to a rapidly shifting society.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review!
The Tower is a heart-warming novel that answers the complex question of what it means to call a place home. Alternating between the viewpoints of Reem and Leah, two women who strike an unlikely friendship, the novel explores themes of poverty, racism, Islamophobia, immigration and the social class divide.
The tower is not so much a place in this story but a person. It is a living, breathing entity, much like the diverse cast of characters who reside within it. It is a community of residents who come from different socio-economic, religious and ethnic backgrounds and are able to create a space where everyone is welcome and accepted regardless of their differences. And it stresses the importance of unity and tolerance, especially in the wake of tragedy.
The novel alludes to many real-life events including the Grenfell Tower fire, the Finsbury Park mosque attack and the countless journeys undertaken by refugees fleeing the violence in their homeland in search of a better life. Throughout the novel, Reem is searching. Not just for a better life but for familiar faces in an unfamiliar world. For her brother, Adar. For the truth within her fragmented memories. For relics of her homeland and history. And although she finds friendship in Leah and Elijah, in Mo and Nidal and Laila, in Kesandu and Archie, there is this underlying feeling of loneliness that haunts her chapters and truly breaks your heart. However, in the shadow of the burnt tower block and the fog of her past, Reem eventually finds light in her daughter, Inara.
The Tower is a quiet novel but it has loud characters who, in the wake of individual and communal tragedy, focus on their similarities to support and uplift each other through loss and grief. It initiates conversations about refugees and the class divide, and finds its strength in all of its characters but especially in the friendship that blossoms between Reem and Leah.
At times, the story does feel slightly crowded with many significant events that are over far too quickly, and it’s quite difficult to tell how much time actually passes over the course of the novel. However, you could also say that this book revolves around the characters rather than the events because, in a similar way, home isn’t really made up of places. It’s made up of people.