THE WATER THIEF
Claire Hajaj, 2018
The Water Thief” is the second book by Claire Hajaj and is available in our library. Her first book, “Ismael’s Oranges,” unfortunately is not. I’ve had this frustration numerous times. After reading “The Water Thief,” which is captivatingly written. I would like to read her other book. Claire Hajaj is of Jewish-Palestinian parentage, currently living in London.
“The Water Thief “ circles around international aid and the moral dilemmas caused/carried by intrusions into other cultures. This is the theme of this wonderfully plotted book which is a very fast paced read, leading the reader to a heart wrenching conclusion of tragic, unintended consequences.
The book’s central character is Londoner Nick, a well off architectural engineer who, after his father’s death, decides to take up a charity post in a remote desert village in West Africa in order to build what he has been led to believe, a much needed hospital. He arrives to find a brand new, unused hospital already there, but the charity and local forces want a children’s hospital. So, in spite of questioning the situation, he accepts the mandate of building a hospital for children, bringing his own emotional baggage with him… a fiancé he left behind, his troubled relationship with his father and his great guilt over a childhood friend’s death, and leaving his institutionalized mother.
This thought provoking book, full of poetic and sharp imagery, whirls around hidden and overt personal and public corruption, family conflicts, fanaticism and radicalization, political tentacles into families and of questionable charitable interventions.
Nick’s attraction to his gentle, well educated Muslim host, Dr Ahmed’s Christian young wife, Margaret, and his need to ‘parent’ their 12 year old son, Jojo (who is flirting with a Boko Haram type gang) blurs all of their values.
A killing drought and the discovery of historical papers that indicate an aquifer under the village, lead Nick to make to make his own decision about helping and doing the ‘right thing’ - redirecting some of the charity’s hospital money and engineering a water well for the village, even though Dr Ahmed warns him of digging into the ground that has not been touched for many years and of what he might find. Nick’s decision to go ahead and fund this clandestine well’s construction has unforeseen and catastrophic consequences.
This book reads like a thriller. The characters are beautifully developed with great understatement, the author examines why religion/belief/higher force has such a hold over all of us… do we need, in crisis, a map, a route, a code, that is set out? What makes a good person? a good deed? a good choice? and how do we, or can we, judge what is good for others? Can good intentions justify dubious actions?
Reviewed by Jean Fraser