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Shelf Awareness: "Spare and minimal, with a painterly style as moody as the weather, this is a delicate tale about the sadness of unfulfilled desire and the ache of memory."

Date: Feb 18 2014

The unnamed Pakistani narrator of Peter Hobbs's sad little novel, In the Orchard, the Swallows, has just been released from prison, arriving exhausted at the family pomegranate orchard he hasn't seen for 15 years. He stays in the house of kindly Abbas, an educated man who found the young narrator emaciated and dehydrated. Abbas's 10-year-old daughter helps the recuperating stranger write a journal in one of her old school notebooks.

What he composes is a long letter to Saba, the rich girl in the marketplace to whom he gave a pomegranate when he was 14, the girl he loved throughout his years in prison, the woman he loves still. A single rash act resulted in a vicious retaliation from her powerful politician father, and catapulted the teenage narrator into a life of horrors, and he is beaten, chained and tortured by the police for years.

The story itself is slight; Hobbs isn't interested in plot or character. Instead, his brief narrative is about the melancholy of missed life, the devastation engendered by a single reckless act, a fragile love that becomes idealized yet somehow manages to last. How long is it possible to love someone who is absent and still have that love be true? That's only one of the unanswered questions in Hobbs's lyrical meditation on recovery and regret. Spare and minimal, with a painterly style as moody as the weather, this is a delicate tale about the sadness of unfulfilled desire and the ache of memory.

-Nick DiMartino