Cassie Hugo, one of two women at the center of The Confusion of Languages, the touching debut novel by Siobhan Fallon (You Know When the Men Are Gone), has many reasons to be jealous of Margaret Brickshaw, the biggest of which is Margaret’s family. It’s May 2011, the time of the Arab Spring. Both women are married to soldiers who work for the U.S. embassy in Jordan. But while Cassie and Dan haven’t conceived a child in their nine-year marriage (including the two years they’ve lived in Amman), Margaret and Crick, new to Jordan, have a 15-month-old boy named Mather.
Cassie’s jealousy might have been less intense if Dan hadn’t signed them up to sponsor the new arrivals. But she does her best to befriend Margaret and hide her sadness whenever she holds Mather and thinks, “This is everything I want.”
On the morning of May 13, with the men on assignment in Italy, Margaret gets into a car accident and doesn’t return from embassy headquarters, where she was supposed to fill out paperwork. While Cassie babysits Mather, she reads Margaret’s journals, in which Margaret chronicled relationships with people she met in Jordan, including two guards, one of whom teaches her Arabic and, in a moving scene, invites her to dinner with his family.
Cassie suspects Margaret may be seeing one of these men and that the affair may explain her disappearance, a suspicion fueled by an enigmatic journal entry: “I must find him. I must make it right.”
The device of one character reading another’s journal is a cliché, but The Confusion of Languages is nonetheless a moving work about desire and the dislocation one might experience in a foreign land. As Fallon shrewdly makes clear, a friend can be as mysterious as the ways of another culture.