Yet again, I picked up a book on audio that I wouldn’t have read under ordinary conditions. I like to experiment and push my boundaries with audiobooks. While I love books set in other countries and about other cultures, the focus of The Tyrant’s Daughter is more political than I generally like to read. I was totally right about the book being very political, but it was also thought-provoking, and I feel pretty good about my decision to branch out of my comfort zone.
In the wake of her father’s assassination during a coup, Laila and her family flee to the U.S. Very intentionally, as the author’s note clarifies, The Tyrant’s Daughter doesn’t take place in any specific country. Rather, it’s an amalgam of various Middle Eastern experiences. Using Laila’s family as representative, Carleson allows the reader to consider what life might be like and what the children of a tyrant might actually know. How culpable are they in the atrocities committed in their country?
Laila, at 15, has trouble settling into her new country, but her younger brother, age 6, falls into the new life fairly easily. Laila’s mother struggles with the idea of having to earn money and encounters difficulties with substance abuse. America is a shock to them, the sheer mass of available products, the clothing, and the gender roles are all overwhelming.
At first, Laila’s a bit disgusted by the U.S. and its culture, but as she researches her own country through American books and the internet, she gets a new view on what her own country was actually like. She learns, for the first time, that her father was actually a dictator, and that he allowed for massacres of his own people. She comes to question the loving father that she knew. She makes some friends: Emmy and Ian, with whom she has a bit of a romance, and comes to embrace a bit about this new world
Despite all that she learns, the U.S. never truly feels like home. Even her brother, who is most settled, never really sees the U.S. as where he belongs. They don’t feel as though they fit in, and want to make it back to their country. I love that Carleson did this, because I think it would have been so easy to write a story about them coming to America and being impressed, but I think the way that they love their country despite its myriad faults is more realistic. People are complex.
The plot focuses on the political struggles back home and the way they affect Laila and her mother. I really am not especially into politics, or I would have enjoyed the book more than I did. It’s well done, I think, particularly the juxtaposition between a terrorist bombing at home and a surprise vacation day from school in the U.S. because a bomb threat was called in to the school, which was viewed as a thing to celebrate by the students.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Meera’s narration works very well for Laila and family. However, I really didn’t care for the way she did the voices of the few American characters. They all had the exact same weird speech pattern that was almost valley girl, rather than a generic American accent. Both Laila’s American friends and Ian talked like that, and it was distracting and annoying. Otherwise, the audio was well done. I especially enjoyed the segments at the end from the author and Benard about the political events that informed the novel.
The Final Verdict:
The Tyrant’s Daughter is a character study of what it would be like to be in the family of a tyrant. It’s an excellent choice for readers who want to consider the ethics of such a situation or those who enjoy studying foreign cultures and politics.