Imagine coming face to face with your body double, who’s your opposite in nearly every way: finances, style, faith. You’d have to admit your evil twin is good looking though, and you have some similarities: you’re both university students who love soccer—and the same woman.
For Matthew Mulberry and Mohamed el Taher, it’s definitely not love at first sight. They don’t want to believe they’re brothers, identical twins separated at birth. Matthew is a Christian, Mohamed a Muslim extremist up to his eyeballs in a terrorist plot. Add in Layla, another Christian, who’s torn by feelings for both brothers.
A plot like this could come across as contrived, propaganda even, with cardboard hero and villain. Instead, award-winning author Keith Clemons gives us two vibrant, fundamentally opposite young men who are each seriously committed to their own understanding of God and His dealings with humanity. Each one’s reasoning makes sense to himself, while he sees the other man as clearly deceived.
If anything, Mohamed’s faith seems the stronger of the two, but I think that’s because we see him spend more time thinking about it. And he has a lot to think about. As well as wrestling with the ethics of mass murder, he’s drawn to compare the harsh Allah who calls him slave with the Christians’ Jesus, who claims God is love and who offers to call him son.
The action divides between California and Egypt, present and past. The flashbacks weave in smoothly, and the author uses just enough lyrical language to evoke the scene without slowing the pace. For example, here’s the California coast: “Waves crashed with a thunderous roar, only to be sucked back with a whoosh, leaving the shoreline bejewelled with fingernail shells sparkling in the crimson light of the dying sun.” (p.215)
Keith Clemons’ taut writing style pulls the reader into the story and keeps the pages turning. This isn’t a novel designed to paint all Muslims as terrorists, or all Christians as ideal. In each camp we see examples of devout behaviour and human failing. While Mohamed and his friends are extremists, other peripheral characters are Muslims living peaceful and caring lives.
If all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then the excesses and evils of the extremist leaders say far more about human depravity than about the deity they claim to serve.
The author’s Christianity is a clue to which side he’s on in comparing the two faiths, but he treats both fairly. He acknowledges the help of former Muslims in understanding Mohamed’s mindset.
Through twists, turns and surprises, Keith Clemons delivers us to a satisfying ending. Nothing is pat or easy, and none of the three main characters will ever be the same again.
The novel’s key characters are all of Egyptian origin, and it was an interesting experience for me as the fly-on-the-wall Caucasian reader to belong in the story world’s ethnic minority.
Canadian author Keith Clemons writes issue-related fiction. His previous novels, Angel in the Alley, These Little Ones, Above the Stars and If I Should Die, are all award-winners, and I have no doubt Mohamed’s Moon will follow suit.
You can read an interview with Keith at Interviews and Reviews and the Hot Apple Cider site. To read other reviews of Mohamed’s Moon, visit Promptings, Writer-lee, Writing Right, Interviews and Reviews and Deborah Gyapong’s blog.