________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 34. . . .May 3, 2013


The Servant

Fatima Sharafeddine.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2013.
157 pp., trade pbk., hc., ePub, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $9.95 (ePub).
ISBN 978-1-55498-308-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55498-307-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-309-4 (ePub).

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Sarah Clark.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



When she enters, May says, “Sit down, Faten.” So she sits on the desk chair.

“You are so lucky. You don’t have to worry about studying or school.”

“On the contrary,” replies Faten. “I wish I could continue my education. I only went to high school for two years before they brought me here. If I had continued, this would have been my last year.”

“What is school good for, anyway? I want to be an artist. I hate math, physics and chemistry.”

Faten stands up and slowly walks toward the door. May will never understand the deprivation she feels, never realize that the baccalaureate will change her life.

Faten is now seventeen years old, the same age as May. One day she will go to nursing school. If, that is, the neighbor agrees to help her. The letter she sent with Rosalynn is her only hope.


Forced to leave her comfortable life in a Lebanese village, 15-year-old Faten is uprooted from the only home she’s ever known, and, without warning, she is sent to the city of Beirut. Here, she becomes a maid, working for a wealthy family to appease her father and provide financial support for her younger siblings. Though Faten is good at her job and able to earn a decent wage, she cannot help but feel as though something is missing from her life. As one of the smartest students in her class, Faten had long dreamed of finishing school and becoming a nurse, convinced that the opportunity to complete her university studies and find a good job at a hospital was well within her reach. Over the next two years, however, Faten is unable to make any progress in achieving this dream, obligated by her stubborn father to continue working. But despite her hardships, Faten does not lose hope, knowing that, if given the chance, she could still complete her high school exams and earn the grades needed to attend university. That is, however, if she can hide her plans from her boss, as well as her unyielding father who cares little about Faten, or her future ambitions. Keeping her family in the dark, a determined Faten takes matters into her own hands, befriending the attractive neighbor across the street who, as a student at the university, offers to help Faten find out more about the qualifications needed to pursue a degree. Faten also reconnects with an old friend from her village, as well as another Beirut maid, hoping to rely on the kindness of companions near and far in order to escape life’s mediocrity, and successfully fulfill her aspirations.

     Though concise, The Servant is highly engaging, encouraging readers to become personally involved in Faten’s plight, sympathetic to her injustices and eager to celebrate her triumphs, rooting for the novel’s protagonist from start to finish. Though the features of traditional stock characters can be applied to Faten’s overbearing father, or unfailingly loyal friends, the story holds interest given its well-paced plot and unique setting. Taking place in Lebanon during the 1980s, The Servant allows young people to connect with a culture and era vastly different from their own, providing a broad and insightful worldview. Although Faten’s academic progress is gradual and well-deserved, the book ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, drawing on the opportunity of a blossoming romance between Faten and her helpful neighbour. Reunited after some time apart, Faten’s neighbour is in desperate need to speak with her; however, the details of this conversation are never revealed, leaving readers to wonder about this final meeting. Though I can understand that an open-ended conclusion may promote critical thinking and allow readers to develop a scenario that is satisfying on an individual level, I feel that the inclusion of a more concrete ending would have provided more structure to the narrative, and possibly, an even happier ending for Faten.


Sarah Clark is a liaison librarian at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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