Book by Masha Hamilton Evokes 1960’s Trans Jordan


Masha Hamilton

Destination: Jordan

Book: Staircase of A Thousand Steps by Masha Hamilton

I am looking in my travel library for books to share with you that I have read that made me yearn to travel. Not travel literature by strict definition, but sometimes historical novels bring a traditional culture so vividly to life that I want to visit the country today and see how those traditions influence the present.

Masha Hamilton was working on this novel, her first, when we briefly belonged to the same Tucson writer’s group, exchanging drafts and bemoaning the frustrations of attempting to clearly express something that seemed vivid in the mind, but resisted being put on paper.

Masha is a world traveler and has developed into a respected writer, and if some day she decides to put her own life on paper, I will avidly read about her experience as a journalist in the Mideast and in Russia. Meanwhile, I will enjoy her novels, informed by her lengthy visits to foreign places, and her finely honed powers of observation.

Staircase of a Thousand Steps tells the story of the people of a village in Trans Jordan before the 1967 war with Israel. We meet Harif who tells stories and is distrusted by the villagers and Harif’s granddaughter, Jammana, a modern American  girl who learns deep meanings from age-old traditions.

Faridah the midwife stands for a break with tradition and the rights of women. As they struggle with old enmities within their village, and more lethal ones within the larger Mediterranean, we also see a people working their way into a modern world that doesn’t quite fit.

We learn from the sharply observant Masha Hamilton, how their homes look, what they eat, how they speak to each other. And the story teller weaves their stories in poetic prose.

It is a book to inspire the urge to seek out new cultures. It is a book to read again and again. Although when I visited Israel, I crossed the Allenby bridge briefly into Jordan, I have yet to visit the part of Jordan and Lebanon and Syria that I would love to see in person. Meanwhile, I’ll hang on to this book to fuel my travel dreams.

Masha Hamilton has written three other books since Staircase of a Thousand Steps.

  • The Distance Between Us, (2004) Unbridled Books, Another novel set in the Mideast.
  • The Camel Bookmobile, (2007) Harper Collins, about a bookmobile in Africa.

And her latest, officially released in September 2009, 31 Hours. The new novel departs from the tone of earlier books as it tells the terrifying tale of a young man who is headed toward an act of terror.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

11 thoughts on “Book by Masha Hamilton Evokes 1960’s Trans Jordan

  1. I copyedited Masha’s work from Russia and the Middle East for years when I worked as a newspaper editor. I’d love to read her novels.

    Jordan is one of my favorite places I’ve visited. I went to Amman, Aqaba and Petra. Everywhere I went people greeted me and said “You are welcome in Jordan.” Once I was on a minibus with a lot of women who didn’t speak English, so they asked a man on the bus to ask me who I was and what I was doing. When he told them, they told him to tell me “You are welcome in Jordan.”

    1. Teresa: What a small world! You will definitely love her novels. It is clear that her writing, as literary as it is, is informed by her experience as a journalist. P.S. I happen to know she has a novel about Russia inside her just trying to burst on to the publishing scene. I think maybe her Mid East settings have been so popular that she’s encouraged to stay there, but, Masha, if you’re listening, I want to read about Russia, too.
      Ruth: Novels make good travel books. Stephanie–interesting choice. I want to talk to you about that.
      Alexandra: I know what you mean. I started this novel with a little misgiving. How can this whitebread reporter understand the culture of such a different place. But she does a wonderful job.

  2. The Life of Pi inspired me to travel. I LOVE that book… even though it’s not exactly your standard travel novel. 🙂
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Light Zucchini Hummus Recipe =-.

  3. I look forward to reading this book about Jordan. It’s not easy to write historical fiction that rings true, but Masha’s presence as a journalist there certainly must have given her an insider’s view of the culture. Jordan is a part of the world that has always fascinated me!

    1. Jessie: I’m glad that you had discovered Masha. I have not read Camel Bookmobile, but have the feeling that you may like the others even more.

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