Title: Omari and The People
Author: Stephen Whitfield
Publisher: ShirleyCastle Press
Release Date: June 20th, 2016 (for audiobook)
Pages: 366 (11 hours, 17 minutes)
Source: Received from The Audiobookworm in exchange for my honest review
In a squalid ancient city on the edge of a desert (based in part on the African Sahara’s Empty Quarter) a weary, thrill-seeking thief named Omari sets his home afire to start anew and to cover his many crimes. When the entire city is unintentionally destroyed by the flames, the cornered thief tells the displaced people a lie about a better place which only he can lead them to, across the desert. With the help of an aged, mysterious woman who knows a better place actually does exist, they set out. The desperate people must come together to fight their way through bandits, storms, epidemics, and more. As a result of Omari’s involvement with Saba, a fiercely independent woman who is out to break him in the pay of a merchant whom he has offended, his ability to lead – his very life – is jeopardized.
OK, the summary is clunky and I want to rewrite it. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…
I enjoyed Omari and the People. It’s a journey-based story, with commentary on human nature- love, friendship, independence, the desire for challenges, the fear of insecurity, and the nature of hope. It’s got magical realism (or perhaps I should say, the world is akin to ours but there’s a character who is magical). It’s got a reluctant hero (Omari). It’s got a stoic best friend that I adored (Umbarek…I may be misspelling that as I listened to it on audiobook). It’s got several fierce female characters, all very different from one another (Saba, Safia, Gonzala, Umal, etc). It’s pretty much got all the elements of an epic.
And the writing is excellent in that storytelling way, because even though it’s a hefty 366 pages, I felt like parts of it were rushed and I wasn’t quite ready for the ending. Or rather, I wanted more middle. I’m thinking it would make an excellent movie or mini-series.
The narration was well done. When a narrator maintains a solid accent for long enough, I have a difficult time reconciling their headshot with the mental image I have of them. I also appreciate that the narrator did convincingly gendered voices without sounding like mockery or he was straining. Yay!
Honestly, the only thing missing was my connection to Omari. I don’t know why, and likely it’s an error on my part, but I didn’t emotionally connect with Omari at all. Oftentimes, it felt like events were happening to him, instead of Omari directing events. And aside from his turmoil over Saba, he never felt vulnerable or relatable to me. And that may have been a deliberate choice by the author, as the emotional reader/character connection is clearly meant to be to the caravan as a whole. Which DID happen- I was worried when certain decisions were made, I feared what would happen with certain unhappy characters, I could easily imagine the celebrations.
Overall, I recommend this for fans of epic travel stories, ensemble casts, magical realism/mysticism in reality, Persian-esque ancient settings, well-rounded and realistic characters, and of course, I recommend the audiobook for a good atmosphere.
Chicago-born Stephen Whitfield began writing as a Marine Corps print journalist. His writing has appeared in military publications, as well as the Kansas City Star and the Jersey Journal. He holds degrees from from Loyola University Chicago, Chicago Theological Seminary, and Indiana University. His various adventures have taken him to such places as London, Paris, Trondheim, Johannesburg, Beirut, most of The Virgin Islands and the wilder neighborhoods of Chicago.