This is Claire Hajaj’s second novel and it is a masterful work up there with the best books I have read this year. Main character Nick, an architect, abandons preparations for his wedding to travel to Africa to assist with the building of a hospital and to atone for a tragedy in his past. We know from the outset that things will go wrong but then the author backtracks to tell a rich, haunting tale which works on so many levels. The location is non-specific and yet created so evocatively, an area hit by drought where the villagers struggle to survive and water supplies have to be bought from an unscrupulous governor. It is he who is behind the showpiece of the hospital but the people have more basic needs which demand to be met. The struggles of the villagers, the heat and corruption feel so authentic and are incorporated seamlessly into the unfolding plot as we see Nick getting further into situations which cannot end well.
There is very strong characterisation. Nick goes to lodge with a local doctor and his family, which includes JoJo who acts as narrator for sections of the novel. He is a twelve year old who brings to mind event in the Englishman’s past. Claire Hajaj is a great-story teller and received critical acclaim for her first novel “Ishmael’s Oranges”. She has a background working in international aid and conflict resolution for the United Nations and she uses this to weave a story which is as gripping as a thriller as well as being beautifully written. Even though the opening gives plot developments away to an extent I was totally involved throughout and felt a strong emotional response to the unfolding of her tale. This is very highly recommended.
The Water Thief was published in hardback by Oneworld in July 2018. Many thanks to Nudge and the publishers for the review copy. An edited version of this review can be found on the Bookhugger section of the Nudge website.