From midnight on a specific day, a truce breaks out. This is explored through a series of incidents, for example Bani Moussa is carrying a bomb he’s supposed to leave in a lost luggage locker at an airport, timed to go off at noon. He’s hanging around at the airport when he gets a phone call calling the mission off. A cult leader who’d been preparing his followers for a mass suicide gathers them together and tells them their saviour has spoken to him and said the time’s not right. They are to return to their normal lives. A woman who’d been adopted by a non Jewish family in Nazi Germany after her Jewish parents were killed, discovers the identity of the man who’d betrayed her family. She plans her revenge, but something persuades her to listen to his story. She learns that he’d though that by betraying her family, he could save his, but Nazi soldiers killed his wife and young child anyway. Learning he’s already suffered, she decides against revenge. Two teens enter a school during the summer vacation with the intent of beating up a gay teacher. However, when they catch up with the teacher, the more aggressive teen asks him how he came out and coped with his family’s reaction. The second teen learns his friend’s aggressiveness was a way of hiding his true nature and that he felt he couldn’t reveal his sexuality.
Most of these incidents are one-off episodes. There’s an ongoing situation where Jennifer, who was having an affair with her employee Sam, is now having an affair with another man and has to bring herself to tell Sam she’s no longer employing him despite her fears of retribution. Sam does cross paths with Laurie, a battered wife who finally plucked up courage to leave her husband just after midnight, in a diner. She’s still surprised he let her pack her bag and walk out but puts it down to the truce. There are also two core characters, Simon Urquhart, a police officer, and Mandy, a journalist, providing a commentary on what’s going on.
Whilst no one dies, there are no births either. However, the implications of this premise aren’t explored. And the novel doesn’t have the length to explore whether the truce has a long lasting effect, whether any of those that would inflict violence on others learn from the day of the truce or would go back to their violent habits if the truce ends (an epilogue explains whether the truce lasts longer than a day, but I’m not giving away the ending here).
The novel’s strength could also be seen as its weakness. With no overall narrative arc holding the individual stories together, it can feel episodic at times. Readers briefly get to know a small group of characters that they never encounter again. It’s a useful way of exploring the premise behind the truce and how it affects a nation of people. The ending feels rushed: there’s no grand conclusion which leaves the idea underdeveloped, but that doesn’t detract from the novel as a whole.
“Truce” is very readable. Saideh Pakravan can create credible characters and scenarios with a finely-judged economy. I didn’t feel that any of the multitude of characters I met were cyphers or there to make a point or drive the plot. Each episode felt organic, growing out of the situation the characters found themselves in. “Truce” succeeds as a novel of episodes featuring genuine characters and interest held together by a thought-provoking thread, what if a undeclared truce lead to peace?
“Truce” is available from Amazon both as paperback and Kindle edition.
By Emma Lee