★★★★1/2 (4.5 out of 5)
Official Synopsis: In a squalid ancient city on the edge of a desert (based in part on the Empty Quarter in Arabia) a weary, thrill-seeking thief named Omari sets his home afire to start anew and to cover his many crimes. When the entire city is unintentionally destroyed by the flames, the cornered thief tells the displaced people a lie about a better place which only he can lead them to, across the desert. With the help of an aged, mysterious woman who knows a better place actually does exist, they set out. The disparate people must come together to fight their way through bandits, storms, epidemics, and more. As a result of Omari’s involvement with Saba, a fiercely independent woman who is out to break him in the pay of a merchant whom he has offended, his ability to lead his life and the success of the caravan – is jeopardized.
Nearly all of the folktales that survive today have origins in the oral tradition. They were passed down from generation to generation and from culture to culture by master storytellers. Omari and the People, by Stephen Whitfield, is written in the style of a folktale — one that tells the story of a hero’s journey to save himself and his wandering band of nomads — and as such is a perfect fit for the audiobook format. Having Curt Simmons performing the narration just makes it that much better!
Whitfield’s prose is simple and stark, yet utterly powerful. As the story unfolds, we travel with the titular Omari and his caravan as they search for a new life beyond the seemingly endless swaths of desert separating them from their potential future. The story may seem simple on the surface — a group of characters must travel from Point A to Point B despite numerous conflicts — but Omari and the People is far from simplistic. Trials and tribulations abound as Omari and his fellow travelers must come to terms with sandstorms, food shortages, infectious diseases, insects, raiders, water shortages, and deeper philosophical issues. Even in its quietest moments, Omari and the People never slows down.
As a protagonist, Omari is deeply flawed. His past is dark and his decision-making abilities are almost certainly compromised by those around him. Will he do what needs to be done to save his people? Or will he succumb to the temptations of his past and present?
This novel is essentially a classic epic hero’s journey and the audiobook narration of Curt Simmons only adds to this sense of grandeur. Simmons’ voice takes on a not-quite-placeable Middle-Eastern accent which he somehow manages to keep up for the nearly eleven-and-a-half hours of run-time. His performance is multi-layered and manages to capture the characters in amazing, nuanced detail. Simply put, Simmons’ narration is a revelation. (Seriously. Check out samples of his other work on Audible.com. He always seems to bring something completely fresh to each performance!)
If and when I listen to audiobooks, they are nearly always non-fiction in nature due to the fact that I can listen to them without having to pay too close attention to plot points or character arcs. Omari and the People, and Simmons’ narration in particular, may very well change this as I found myself so completely drawn into the tale! Although the conclusion wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped it would be, this audiobook gets my complete recommendation. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Omari and the People today!
I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions in exchange for an honest review. The tour is being sponsored by Stephen Whitfield and Curt Simmons.
Chicago-born Stephen Whitfield began writing as a Marine Corps print journalist. His writing has appeared in military publications, as well as the Kansas City Star and the Jersey Journal. He holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago, Chicago Theological Seminary, and Indiana University. His various adventures have taken him to such places as London, Paris, Trondheim, Johannesburg, Beirut, most of The Virgin Islands and the wilder neighborhoods of Chicago.
Curt lives in Seattle and produces and narrates audiobooks in his home studio. He began his performing career in college as a stage actor and radio personality. After college, in addition to acting, Curt also did voiceovers for commercials, which he also wrote, directed, and edited for broadcast TV. Following the birth of his daughter in 1984, he left the performing arts to pursue a more “stable” profession managing projects. Then, in 2014 he returned to the professional stage for the first time in over 30 years as Walter Flood in Becky’s New Car by Stephen Dietz. He has also appeared recently as Lyman in Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and Ralph in The Last Romance by Joseph DiPietro. Omari and the People is Curt’s sixth audiobook.