What Will Survive?, By Joan Smith

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The Independent Culture

The transience of life is a truth well known by 43-year-old, Anglo-Egyptian Aisha, a former model scornful of a culture in which "fashion and beauty are the only things that matter". She leaves her idyllic Somerset home to help the under-privileged in the Middle East. Here, however, her car drives over a landmine and she is killed off, perhaps too soon for the reader to feel enough attachment to her. Amanda, a young features writer, is dispatched to Beirut to write a story about the death, and there discovers a city damaged by civil war. Being 1997, the event is paralleled with the car crash of the landmine campaigner Princess Diana.

Joan Smith is excellent at documenting how reputations survive as a legacy of newspaper clippings, scratchy recordings and rumour. Yet she also reveals the plight of those far from the limelight, whose stories remain undocumented. The novel closes with the sound of sobbing, and Smith does well to reveal this world of hidden pain, which survives in the hearts and minds of those who must suffer in silence.