Open My Eyes, That I May See Marvellous Things

Open My Eyes, That I May See Marvellous Things
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ISBN:  9781780663906
Publisher:  Pinter & Martin

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  (2 Reviews)

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Author: Alice Allan
Published: 30th March 2017
Binding: paperback
Format: 198 x 127 mm
Pages: 240
Illustrations: none
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Hive 

How can you hold a baby next to your skin without it touching your heart?

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: when adopted midwife Mariam embarks on a project to protect an abandoned premature baby, she is forced to face her own abandonment years before. Time is running out before the baby is sent to the orphanage. Mysterious characters from the city surrounding the hospital will be crucial in determining the baby’s fate, as will a workaholic British doctor with whom Mariam finds herself falling in love... Alice Allan's debut novel is an original, vivid and moving story about attachment and loss.

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Open My Eyes
Friday, 31 March 2017  | 

This powerful, character-led novel has remarkable insight and compassion, with unusual themes, and a beautifully captured setting - Addis Ababa. Written in chapters from five main viewpoints, it weaves in original thinking about the needs of babies - especially premature ones - yet is never didactic or preachy. Some of the best writing is from the viewpoint of ďa personĒ - a beggar with mental health problems who believes he is an emperor brought back to life.

Itís a double love story. The protagonist - Mariam, returning to her home country of Ethiopia many years after being adopted to Britain - falls in love simultaneously with a particular abandoned baby girl, and with an older man, a white doctor. Will the baby survive, when so many like her die? And will Mariam overcome her sense of isolation and allow herself to be vulnerably attracted to the doctor?

Black and white relationships. The cultural differences of nations. Adoption and its unfinished business. The needs of babies: these are the themes of this well imagined and humane book. Alice Allan captures street life, social and economic tensions and some of the history of the Ethiopian capital in this fascinating debut novel.

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A really moving story
Thursday, 9 March 2017  | 

Open My Eyes is the first novel from an author whose life experience has provided her with the richest material with which to craft a beautiful story. Mariam is a midwife volunteering in Addis Ababa, where she encounters both her past and her future in ways she does not expect. She finds herself fighting for the life of an abandoned premature baby, using the unconventional methods of kangaroo care and donated human milk. Meanwhile she antagonises hospital management, dates a handsome doctor, and tries to piece together a sense of her own pre-adoption world.

Alice Allan creates a real sense of the colours and dust and smells of Ethiopia, while telling the tale from multiple perspectives, so that each character's story develops at its own pace. But this is not just a book about falling in love with a baby; we also have a mild thriller smouldering alongside Mariam's story, although there is little for readers to figure out, and the rest of the book is so strong that this plot is not really crucial.

The biggest strength of the book is the chapters written from the baby's perspective. I have never read prose that so powerfully captures the sensations of a newborn. If you need a way to convey the baby's limited, terrifying world, or the importance of skin to skin and comfort, Alice Allan does this with the most poignant and effective insight. I read three pages of this book to a group of colleagues, and the effect was breathtaking.

This is a many-threaded story, and the central thread is that tiny fragile human, buffeted by the needs and the limitations of the adults in her world. It's really wonderful to read fiction so heartfelt, so accurate, and so moving.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

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