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Sara Dowse

'I am very annoyed and disgusted with the discrimination, prejudice, ridicule and scorn, with possible disgrace and ruin of my reputation, and good name, if my family, friends, associates and colleagues ever discovered that I express my ‘feminine personality’ by dressing completely as a woman. And yet, because of my ‘feminine personality’ I consider myself to be more compassionate, more understanding, and certainly more relaxed and happy, than the average male.’ Thus wrote the president of a group of heterosexual transvestites to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships.

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Sara Dowse is a fine observer of politics and power. Her new novel, As the Lonely Fly, traverses three continents over fifty years and contains a multitude of characters, but its focus is honed in on three sisters, of sorts. While Chekhov’s play of that name is typified by waiting, Dowse’s story is of continuous flux and upheaval. Clara-later-Chava, Man ...

I am old enough to remember when we called it ‘the Levant’. The eastern Mediterranean, a land where the sun rose, where camels lazed in the shade of palm trees, strewn here and there with baked mud huts and their shadows on the sand. A sleepy land, no trouble to anyone, least of all the Ottoman Sultan, its faraway and hands-off ruler – the sick man of Europe, they called him. I once had in my possession an early twentieth-century photograph that came to my family from Palestine with just such a scene: the square adobe hut, the palm tree, the camel. It has long disappeared, along with any misguided notions I had of the place. ‘Middle East’ conjures up altogether different images: bombed cities, crowded refugee camps, unimaginable suffering and bloodshed – above all, hatred. A hatred that runs so deep, over so many generations, that it is a test of the imagination to envisage its ever abating.

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