Food for thought

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Oranges in No Man's Land. By Elizabeth Laird. Macmillan Children's Books. pound;7.99

It is 30 years ago, and 10-year-old Ayesha is living near the unofficial Green Line in Beirut that divides the two factions in Lebanon's civil war.

She has already lost her mother, and when her grandmother becomes ill she decides to cross over to the other side in order to secure some desperately needed medicine.

Told with warmth and understanding by an award-winning author who lived in Beirut during that time, this novel stays in the memory well after it is finished. Inevitably depressing at moments, it is also a tribute to the human spirit. Ayesha meets kindness as well as fear on her forbidden journey, where she could have been shot as a spy. Pretending to be a deaf mute so that her Southern Lebanon accent would not give her away, she is unexpectedly given an orange, a rare treat that also explains the book's title.

Fifty pence from every copy sold goes to Save the Children, but this story is more than a charity read, deserving of its own merits.

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