Desert Isle Keeper
Written from a beautiful and intimate ‘own voice’ perspective, Liz Jacob’s Abroad is a delight. Accurate and nuanced writing is becoming the norm with Brain Mill Press, and Abroad continues this trend, and raises the bar higher.
Although the novel subtly changes points of view throughout, the strongest voice is that of Nick Melnikov. When he was young, his Russian Jewish family emmigrated to Michigan, Ohio in the United States. Now nearing the end of his studies, he is in London attending University there for an academic year.
Nick is a bundle of social anxiety that causes him to curl in on himself. He has never fully reconciled his adult psyche to the shock of starting school in America at the age of eleven without knowing the language and the different traditions. Additionally, he suspects he is gay but refuses to be so. He is already a Russian-Jewish émigré and feels socially isolated – being Russian just does not allow him to be gay too! Additionally, he fears his family will not accept it, and they are his lifeline, the only consistency and foundation he can be sure of in his life.
Following a very awkward welcome mixer for International students, Nick finds himself taken under the wing of Izzy, a character I absolutely adored. She is sure of herself, kind, thoughtful and a ball of feistiness. However, even assured bright characters like Izzy can be taken by surprise during this transient time in life, and during the story, that’s exactly what happens to her! Through Izzy, Nick finds himself part of a tight-knit group of students from his college – she has the ability to draw this shy, awkward man into the varied group:
Watching her gave Nick a similar feeling to walking through his own front door. She put Nick at ease.
Being at ease is such a rare thing for Nick and so he is drawn to Izzy. This family of friends all have back stories and issues of their own, and Nick slowly learns them. The most important member of this group for Nick – apart from Izzy – is Dex Cartwell. Dex is black, gorgeous, out and proud, and intelligent. Nick admires how at ease Dex is with himself and who he is; except Dex is nursing a long term broken heart and is worried about his younger brother who, with his parents, has moved to a very white, affluent part of England. Nick doesn’t know any of this at the beginning and simply admires Dex for his confidence, although the way he makes Nick feel is far from comfortable.
Nick and Dex are both drawn to each other, but it is hard to get to know people who both have reasons to be shut down emotionally. Thanks to Izzy and their friends, they slowly discover each other and a lot about themselves.
I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot; this is a story about people, and not big artificial events, accidents or contrived drama, because life is rarely like that. Liz Jacobs deserves an award for her English dialogue and her depiction of London. She has it spot-on where the British and cultural life in England is concerned, even down to the television programmes we watch, and yet I happen to know that the author is a Russian-Jewish émigré and lives in the States.
However, Russian-Jew Nick’s inner dialogue and his reactions to yet another new country are so beautifully written. His feelings about life and who he is; his intimate discomforts and the sense of a soul lost, here written by one who has experienced this, underlines why ‘own voice’ perspectives are to be treasured.
She also highlights how alike we all are, regardless of where we started and who we love. After a very drunk night out, a sober Nick reflects –
…memories popped up in erratic shifts. Why did I do that? Why had he danced like an idiot? Why had he come at all? Had he been rude to Dex, too…He groaned and covered himself with the duvet. The close, sweaty air underneath didn’t help, but maybe if he stayed there forever, he’d never actually have to deal with any of it. Suffocating on his own humiliation – what an ending.
This novel moved me to tears, it made me laugh and I felt empathy, but just when I thought Dex might not be worthy of Nick, the author writes this –
Dex realised that Nick’s rage wasn’t like other people’s rage. It contained heartbreak, the kind that didn’t know where to go. Nick’s hands found Dex’s shirt and grabbed on like pincers, Even as he quivered in Dex’s arms, Dex wanted him frantically. Desperately.
I really hope that, as this is book one in the series, there is more to come regarding Izzy, Nick, Dex and the others. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly and add this author to my short list of auto-buys.