Fifteen year old Laila lived a sheltered yet privileged life as the daughter of the powerful leader of a Middle Eastern country. She had servants to tend to her every whim and worshiped her father, who she believed was firm but kind. Her world gets turned upside down when her uncle successfully assassinates her father and seizes power, forcing her surviving family to flee to the US under CIA protection. Now Laila has to learn how to be an ordinary girl a culture so different from her own that she struggles to comprehend it. Simultaneously she begins to discover that her father may not have been the kind, just leader she believed, that outside their palace he was known by other names: dictator and tyrant. Laila must find a balance between her past and present and decide who she is in this new world and how to honour the man she loved and the world reviled.
The Tyrant’s Daughter is one of the most powerful young adult novels I have ever read, and its message is accessible to both younger readers and adults. In a time where there is constant upheaval in the Middle East it’s easy to vilify the families of the various leaders, and Laila’s story shows that no one is solely cruel. While there is no doubt in my mind that the protagonist’s father authorized some terrible things against his opposition, he also loved his children and cherished his wife, so I understand how Laila struggles with blending her perception of the man and his public persona.
The novel also explores the concepts of cultural sensitivity for both Laila observing American culture in D.C. and her classmates learning about her life in a traditional Muslim culture. While neither side truly accepts all parts of the other, they gradually find beauty in some aspects of each. However, the barrier is too much to conquer quickly, and Laila’s desire to connect with fellow countryman, Amir, even as he loathes what she represents to the lower classes, is understandable and charmingly human.
Laila’s country is meant to be an amalgam of the Middle East rather than a fictional equivalent of one specific country. Unfortunately, the region has been prone to so many political upheavals that you can find real life events that mirror those in the story quite easily. For me I found it reminiscent of the Iranian Revolution although given the book was set in present day that would have been too long ago.
Overall, The Tyrant’s Daughter is a poignant character study about who we become when all sense of our origin is stripped away from us. Laila isn’t a perfect heroine, but my heart opened to her. How she chooses to walk her life path in the future is not determined at the end of the novel, but she has learned a lot from her experiences and will surely fight for the land of her birth.
5 Increasingly Concerning News Stories out of 5
The Tyrant’s Daughter will be available for purchase on February 11, 2014 wherever books are sold.