Review: Confusion of Languages

by Siobhan Fallon
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Confusion of Languages is a nail-biting thriller that invites readers into an off-limits world, written with vivid details of place and culture. "Every embassy residence is equipped with a panic room with bulletproof door. If you feel you are in danger, lock yourself in your panic room and radio the embassy immediately." These are the rules. However, no sanctuary exists for the vulnerable emotional situations that Cassie and Margaret encounter as ex-pat military wives living in Amman, Jordan. The political situation is edgy, set during the “Arab Spring” when Egyptian President Mubarak resigns.

Cassie, wearied by years of infertility, is assigned welcome-wagon duty to newly arrived Margaret and her young child, Mather. The men are sent away on a mission, while the wives are left to make do on their own, so long as they follow cultural norms and security precautions. Margaret wanders off-bounds, leaving Cassie to tend Mather, aka “the little beast”. Cassie reads Margaret’s secret diary, learning more than she’d intended—about Margaret, and also about her own insecurities. The novel develops into a missing person’s mystery when Margaret fails to return.

Confusion of Languages includes a mystery, a braided domestic drama (Cassie and Crick and Margaret and Dan), a glimpse of embassy life in contemporary Jordan, and a revelation about the secret yearnings of military wives—who keep on keeping on while their soldiers are off settling scores and tallying wars.

Torrey Douglass