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The Tyrant's DaughterFrom Amazon: THERE: In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, fifteen-year-old Laila has always lived like royalty. Her father is a dictator of sorts, though she knows him as King—just as his father was, and just as her little brother Bastien will be one day. Then everything changes: Laila’s father is killed in a coup.

HERE: As war surges, Laila flees to a life of exile in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Overnight she becomes a nobody. Even as she adjusts to a new school and new friends, she is haunted by the past. Was her father really a dictator like the American newspapers say? What was the cost of her family’s privilege?

Far from feeling guilty, her mother is determined to regain their position of power. So she’s engineering a power play—conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to gain a foothold to the throne. Laila can’t bear to stand still as yet another international crisis takes shape around her. But how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

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Throughout history, there have been many dictators and tyrants leading their countries into war, be it with other countries, or within the boundaries of their own. Civil wars and bloodshed have been on the rise throughout the world, especially within recent years, and J.C. Carleson’s novel, The Tyrant’s Daughter comes at such a time when the world’s eyes are glued to the events currently unfolding in Syria, while also reminding us of the civil unrest that is still occurring in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the list goes on.

While I have read many novels about genocides, civil war, and the memoirs of those affected by civil unrest, Carelson’s novel is the first I’ve come across focusing on the life of a dictator’s wife and children.  And though fictional, Carleson gives readers a glimpse into the family life that we rarely hear about, but have always questioned.  I remember a few years back, I was flipping through the TV Guide channel and saw that a station, perhaps the history channel, was going to run a special about Hitler’s children, a “where are they now” kind of documentary, but didn’t watch it because it was scheduled to run in the dead of night.  I’d forgotten about it until now.  I wish I had watched it.

The Tyrant’s Daughter focuses on the life of Laila as she acclimates to her new life in the U.S.  A place of immense freedom, where she doesn’t have to cover herself and she can interact with the opposite sex without being shunned or beaten.  It’s a brand new world for her, and as she soon finds out, a safe-haven from the worn-torn country she left when her father, a tyrant by every definition, was murdered. Having been subjected to limited access to the internet within her country, Laila now sees the truths about her father and her family as the news reports flood in concerning the uprisings, death toll, and the new tyrant (her uncle) running her country.

Carelson’s novel is extremely powerful and I was glued to the pages as I read.  Laila’s story is poignant and believable, and as she attempts to understand the new knowledge she gains about her father’s actions, everything in her life is upended.  Believed by some to have inner knowledge of her father’s actions, she is shunned by refugees from her country, while her mother refuses to back down from her queen status and moves invisible pawns in order to grant her 7 year old son, Bastien, Laila’s brother, the right be rule his country.  It’s an intense read, and really made me stop and think; just how much do the children of dictators know?  And while society has a tendency to lump a family in with the sins of the father, wondering how they couldn’t know the reality, is there more truth in the fact that children, and sometimes even wives, have limited or no knowledge of the extent of the atrocities their fathers/husbands/parents commit?

This is a fictional tale, as I’ve said, but derives itself from the many true events that surround dictators, both past and present, and it’s a must read.  Although slated as a YA book, this novel is riveting and one I highly recommend for adults as well.  Five stars.

5 stars

Random House Children’s and Alfred A. Knopf BFYR have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on February 11, 2014, in exchange for an honest review.

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