In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth, a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University, travels to Damascus to immerse herself in the Syrian language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always as they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and a murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.
From the Prologue –
When I traveled to Syria as a Durham student in 1992, I knew very little about the country. From the onset, I was overwhelmed by their welcome. But the longer I stayed in Damascus and especially when I started working for Dr. Andrew Rathmell, as his Arabic translator and assistant researcher, the more I understood of Syria’s tumultuous and violent history. At the time, Hafez al-Assad, the President of Syria since 1971, was at the height of his autocratic power and the country was in a state of relative calm since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. His vast security apparatus was evident on every street corner whether army, police or civilian informants. My travel guide dedicated an entire page to the various types of mukhabarat, secret police, present in the country but also reassuringly wrote that Syria was a “safe” country for travelers. Not so obvious was the fear, paranoia and suppression which his people lived under…
With my legs bunched up near my chin, I buried my face into my knees and rocked. I smelled the rusty, iron scent of blood on my jeans. Strands of long hair that had been pulled out of my braid after the struggle were sticking to my neck and cheeks, held in place by sweat and blood. I reached up and felt the sore skin around my neck, where my hood had been tied. Welts had formed around my wrists, where the ropes had been. I moaned.
Who are my kidnappers? Could it be Hezbollah? The Syrian Army? Or the South Lebanese Army? God, please let it not be Hezbollah.
My heart beat in my neck at the thought of being held by a terrorist group. I squeezed my knees even tighter and whimpered from a sudden, sharp pain in my ribs.
I remembered the Sunday I broke the news to my parents that I was going to study in Damascus. Mother made me promise that I would not go to Lebanon, even saying that it’s because she feared Hezbollah.
“Elizabeth, I want to hear you promise.” She had insisted when I shrugged my shoulders and grinned.
I thought she was being over-protective, after all Hezbollah had ceased taking hostages three years ago and released their last captive, Terry Anderson, last year.
It can’t be them.
My heart rate reduced to a dull thud. So, perhaps it’s the Syrian Army? Adrien had told me during my last visit to see him at the embassy that the Syrian government knew I was a former British diplomat, and even though the Syrian Army was in Lebanon, he vouched that I would be safer there than in Damascus. I trusted Adrien implicitly, as I had done so with the MI6 officer in my former embassy in Sana’a.
I prayed the Syrians had picked me up, or even the South Lebanese Army. After all, I told myself, they are on the same side. I whispered to myself Adrien’s reassurance that I still had diplomatic immunity, and that this meant I would be released soon and sent to the British Embassy.
I lifted my head up and looked around the room. It was dimly lit, with one bare bulb and a fan in the centre of the ceiling. A grimy, thin mattress lay on the filthy floor, with an empty nightstand beside it. The one window the room had was crudely boarded up. I could see daylight, which seeped in from around the ill-fitting plywood. Gingerly, I stood up gripping my left side as pain seared in my ribcage and took three steps forward. Through a crack in the board, I could make out a gravel road and the bonnet of a black car. My field of vision was disappointingly limited, as I peered in all directions for any clues as to where I was. I pulled at the wood to see if it was loose, but it had been nailed to the window frame and then I discovered one, additional barrier. Like so many homes I had seen in this part of the world, windows on the first floor were barred, perhaps to keep inhabitants in rather than prevent break-ins. My hope of a possible escape route was dashed. I collapsed onto the mattress in a heap and wept.
I thought of my parents. I couldn’t take my mind off the intense longing I had to see them again and put my arms around them. I had felt loneliness before, but this was different. It was an aloneness that you are somewhere in the world where your loved ones don’t know, nor have any hope of finding you or even dream what is happening to you. It was an emptiness of unfathomable depth.
I reached up to the empty nightstand and pulled open its small drawer. I was surprised to find that it was full of rubbish, which I sifted through. A rush of relief washed over me, when I saw a pen and a possible scrap of paper to write on.
Then slowly, I began to write.
About The Author:
Michelle Peach graduated from Durham University in 1995 with a B.A. in Arabic with Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. During 1992, she spent her second year of college studying abroad at the Arabic Teaching Institute for Foreigners in Damascus. Since then, Michelle’s love for Syria has never been far from her thoughts. When the unrest began in 2011, her determination to start writing Gazelle in the Shadows intensified. “I was distraught and appalled by the suffering of the people and by the destruction of its historical sites in Aleppo, Palmyra, Bosra, Homs, Damascus and elsewhere. I know that many will not have the opportunity to see the sights of Syria due to the ongoing conflict, but I hope that through my story readers can enjoy the cities, landscapes and culture of Syria.” Gazelle in the Shadows is set to be released in September 2018, published by IngramSpark.
Michelle lives in Atlanta, GA. She is a stay-at-home mom, married with three children. Readers can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. To learn more, go to https://michellepeach.com/