Award-winning author Ami Sands Brodoff’s newest novel, In Many Waters (Inanna 2017) takes place primarily in Malta where Zoe, along with her brother Cal were born and raised. The story begins in Malta. It is 2007 and it has been 7 years since Zoe and Cal lost their parents, Cassandra and Lior, in a surfing accident in waters off Mexico. Zoe dislikes being on the water, for it means you could be in it, a fear instilled in her when as a child, her father threw her into the water in a “sink or swim” moment: “Zoe never quite forgave him for that scare. but her lifelong fear was perverse revenge. Her parent’s drowning deaths only made her terror burrow in more deeply.” Cal, on the other hand, is like his father and loves the water and is a strong swimmer.
Meanwhile, off the coast of Libya, a young woman by the name of Aziza floats, a survivor of an attempt to flee the country and reach Malta as a refugee.
“Black water licked her limbs. She remembered where she was, had no idea how long she’d been floating in the sea, no sense how long she could hold on. Aziza thought of Uncle Nuru strapping her into the life vest the moment she stepped onto his old wooden fishing boat in the middle of the night at the port in Tripoli. Uncle had to tie the straps tight, Aziza was so skinny. She’d always been thin no matter how much she ate, with long arms and legs, a swan-like neck, slender hands and feet. Like her father. Like Baba, she was strong;
unlike him, she looked delicate.
Her father, Idir, had vanished from their home in Tripoli six months ago. After Baba disappeared, the terror grew. Menacing calls, death threats scrawled onto the front of their house. Her father’s leather shop in the souk ransacked, their home set on fire, then Uncle Nuru’s burned to the ground. They were not the only ones. Anyone under suspicion, anyone disloyal to Brother Leader Qaddafi, or accused of disloyalty—it didn’t take much.”
Aziza is rescued by Cal when he sees her floating in the water when he is out for a swim. Unsure what to do with her, or what might happen to her as an illegal immigrant, he takes her back to his apartment where he helps her to regain her health. Not being able to hide her in his apartment forever, Aziza eventually comes to the attention of the Maltese authorities and is subjected to the demeaning immigrant internment process along with hundreds of others. Thanks to Cal’s help on the outside, Aziza is eventually taken in by a Montreal family as a nanny. Cal will eventually follow her there where he plans to attend university. At the time of Aziza’s rescue, Zoe is in Mexico trying to track down clues about her parent’s death (the bodies were never recovered) and where she discovers her parent’s marriage wasn’t as secure as she thought, which raises more questions in her mind. One can feel Zoe’s frustrations at the insensible clues she is given, especially from Luz, a close friend of her mother:
“Lior did not like our friendship, which stood between them, but she could not have survived…without me.”
“Well, she didn’t.”
Luz sat erect, her chin raised, looking past Zoe. “Neither did he.”
Shit, Zoe hated this woman.
In Many Waters is a multi-layered, multi-national, multi-generational story that is fascinating to read. There is also the significant side story of Zoe’s estranged Aunt Yael (Cassandra’s older sister), who one day up and leaves Cassandra and her parents and disappears. The book is also quite informative regarding the history of the Jewish people in Malta and how they came to form a community on that tiny island. Overall an impressive read, right to the final page.