Tags: American architecture, architecture, book review, Chicago, divorce, Edna Pontellier, Ellen Key, fiction, Frank Lloyd Wright, Historical Fiction, Japan, Loving Frank, Mamah Cheney, Nancy Horan, The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper, Wisconsin, women's suffrage
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
In search of a home of his own, Mr. Edwin Cheney of Chicago convinced his wife Mamah to agree to commissioning a local American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to design and build their family home. Mr. Cheney gained his house, but he couldn’t have known that he would ultimately lose his wife to the architect. Loving Frank tells the story of the love affair of Mamah and Frank from Mamah’s perspective. Mamah’s decision to leave the husband for which she never had any passion cost her as well. In her time, adulterous women lost custody of their children and their reputations to boot. Her story is one of heartache, sensuality, and the discovery of who she is and who she wants to be.
Loving Frank reads like a story out of 19th feminist literature like The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In so many ways, unfortunately, Mamah is the embodiment of Edna Pontellier. She finds her self dissatisfied with domestic life and agonizes over the realization that she really knew beforehand that she shouldn’t have married Edwin. Although he respects her father and cares for her family, he is not a creative soul. Frank Lloyd Wright is. As he, too, has grown unhappy in his own marriage, it’s only a matter of time before the two begin an affair. After leaving her family to run away with her lover, she comes face to face with the reality of living with Frank. Frank may be a man of vision, but he is all too human. He has deep character flaws that cause her distress and embarrassment. The guilt of leaving her children and the ill effects of being under the harsh spotlight of a the scandal loving media start to take their tole. It is only after attending a speech by Ellen Key, a feminist writer famous in Europe, that she starts to understand that the secret to her own happiness and fulfillment can come from no place but within herself.
Mamah and Frank are both self-centric people and are often unlikable. They both want the fairytale life, but tend to whine when it isn’t handed to them on a silver platter. Although he thought of Mamah as his intellectual equal, Frank was dismayed repetitively when she wanted to leave his side to pursue her own goals. Mamah continually found it difficult to love Frank through his human weaknesses. They both wanted nothing more than to express their creativity. Neither really cared to get their hands messy with the work of keeping relationships together. Had fate not intervened in the end, it seems doubtful that their relationship could have survived after the drama created by their scandalous relationship died down.
This review was difficult to write. I enjoyed Loving Frank , despite the fact that portions of the novel seemed long and dry. Given their personalities, it was often difficult to sympathize with Mamah and Frank. That being said, to enjoy a novel, it is not necessary to like the main characters. Lolita is one of my favorite novels, but I do not like nor agree with Humbert Humbert. The exploration of feminism in the early 2oth century through Mamah’s growth as a woman was very interesting. In that day and time, a woman lost her place as mother when she willingly gave up her place as wife. For women with children, personal freedom came at a huge cost. As the narrative tended to wander off course in some areas and then the author included too many unnecessary details in other, there were loose ends that were not tied up in the end. What could have been a brilliant, emotional and powerful conclusion to Mamah and Frank’s story fizzled. I would still recommend this novel, most especially for a class about early feminist literature. Although this is a work of historical fiction, it would provide the perspective of a woman living in America at the time.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: audiobook, book review, excellent narration, fiction, Gothic Fiction, Juliet Mills, lepidopterist, mental illness, moths, mystery, Poppy Adams, pupal soup, The Sister, unreliable narrator
The Sister by Poppy Adams, read by Juliet Mills
Virginia Stone, a 70 year old spinster, lives alone with her moths at Bulburrow Court, her family’s mansion. She is an eccentric old woman who grew up during WWII and its aftermath. She is peculiar, most especially about time and tea. To say she is set in her ways would be an understatement. When her younger sister Vivien returns to Bulburrow Court after leaving the family home and her sister for London nearly 50 years earlier, Ginny reflects on her life, from her alcoholic mother Maud, her lepidopterist father Clive, who mentored her in the study of moths, and her love for her absent sister. She approaches her history with the same unemotional scientific eye that she uses with her moths and other insects. It doesn’t take long to start questioning Ginny’s reliability as a daughter, sister, and narrator. This novel held my interest from the beginning with Vivi’s tragic, near-fatal fall and the numerous mysteries and questions that continued to come up to the surface.
Poppy Adams is an extremely detailed writer. Her use of entomology and the study of the moth clearly stem from a great deal of research. While Ginny loves to go into lengthy and often gory detail about her science, the minutia she shares with the reader provides important insights into Ginny’s morality, mental state, and obsessive compulsiveness. There is an interesting passage about a colony of ants taken over by a butterfly larva that still has me thinking about Ginny and what the truth about her family might have been.
This is the first audio book I truly enjoyed. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and Savannah by John Jakes (which I couldn’t finish) were complete flops for me – both because of the narration. In addition to the story itself, The Sister had what the others so far have not – the perfect reader. Juliet Mills’ voice and reading was such a complement to Ginny that I can’t image there being a more perfect vocal performer for the novel. The way she enunciated “pupal soup” throughout the novel was both sickening and dead on for Ginny’s character. She expertly read dialog for the other characters as well. There was a scene where Maud, drunk, could not hold her tongue to Ginny about her opinions of Albert, Vivi’s boyfriend. That exchange between Maud and Ginny was wonderful and riveting. Although I’m tempted to read the physical book the next time around, I can’t imagine reading it without hearing Mills’ voice.
This novel, because it is narrated by Ginny, does not provide answers to all of the questions that are raised. Who exactly is the sister? What exactly did the rest of the family and the village of Bulburrow know about Ginny that she did not? If she has been mentally ill her entire life, why in the world would Vivi and Albert entrust her with their family in the way that they did? Did she truly carry on Clive’s work after he retired? What exactly went on with Dr. Moyse? At first, this made the ending fall a little flat for me. However, upon further reflection, it would be impossible to know what Ginny did not and this is made even that much more difficult as she had a talent for blocking out the unpleasant portions of stories and conversations. Truly, this novel is open-ended, allowing the reader to discern the truth from the delusion. The Sister invites additional readings. It would be very interesting to read this a second time to see what I might have missed the first time. While under no circumstances would I ever sit down for tea with Ginny Stone, I’d love to study her in more depth. She is a fascinating character whose voice, like that of Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale and many of Patrick McGrath’s narrators, will stay with me for a long time to come.
Tags: 11th Century Normandy, book review, England, fiction, Georgette Heyer, Historical Fiction, Lady Matilda, The Conqueror, William the Conqueror, William the Conqueror's modernization of warfare
The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer
The Conqueror tells the story of William the Conqueror, from his bastard birth, to his life as the Duke of Normandy, and finaly to his triumphant rise to the throne of England. Given the circumstances of William’s life and the political climate of both Normandy and England in the 11th century, this is quite an undertaking.
After reading The Reluctant Widow, I was very excited to start The Conqueror. My thinking was that if I loved her Regency Romances, I would really love her historical fiction. I was mistaken. Unlike The Reluctant Widow, this novel took me over a week to finish. This was mainly due to the slow and inconsistent pacing of the plot. While much time and energy was spent on William the Conqueror’s numerous battles, very little was spent on his relationship with Matilda or who he really was as a man. This lack of character development was true throughout, filling pages with numerous supporting characters between whom I could not readily distinguish. For me, they further bogged down the story and made it seem even that much longer than it really was.
There were flashes of Heyer’s brilliance when she tells of the circumstances of William’s birth, when she introduces Raoul, the fictional man through whom we meet William as a man and learn of his exploits, and when she tells of William’s “courting” of Lady Matilda. I also found it interesting to learn of ways in which William modernized the warfare of the day through strategy and the inclusion of archers. Clearly, William is a man capable of capturing the imagination of readers nearly a full century after his full and adventurous life. Unfortunately, this potential was lost to me amidst the superfluous characters and many of the battles in Normandy that did not add to the plot or provide any additional insight into William or, for that matter, Raoul or Matilda.
While The Conqueror did not engage me or take me away to time and places of William’s life, I am glad to have read it. This novel is best approached as one to read over a period of time. It would be interesting to read this in chapters or sections as a prelude to a thorough biography. I am curious to learn more about William, Matilda and and the lives of their children. In that way, this novel was a success. I hope to find a good book that focuses on the life that William and Matilda shared. If you have any suggestions, I would be most appreciative.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: A'isha bint Abi Baker, beginnings of Islam, book review, controversial book, Early Reviewers, fiction, harim, Historical Fiction, Islam, LibraryThing, Mecca, Muhammad, Random House, Sherry Jones, The Jewel of Medina
The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones
A’isha is a 6 year old girl who, after her parents betrothed her to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was required to remain in her family home until she had her first menstrual period. For an adventurous girl such as herself, she is tortured by the limitations placed on her simply because she was betrothed. She dreamed of escaping to freedom with the Bedouins with Safwan, her childhood friend during the entire length of her purdah. When she witnesses a woman from her clan dragged away by a man who would disgrace her as well, A’isha can barely contain herself from taking up a sword and defending her neighbor herself. She may have been young and she may have been a girl, but she had the heart of a warrior. It was this spirit which caught the eye of Muhammad and changed her destiny.
I first heard about this novel in August when it was reported that Random House was pulling its publication for fear of angering Muslims and perhaps inciting violence. This reminded me of the events surrounding Salmon Rushdie and The Satanic Verses. I found the decision disappointing. Self-censorship out of fear of what might happen is in some ways worse than forcible censorship because it isn’t always as visible. How many other books have never been published out of fear? Thankfully, it was finally published by Beaufort Books in the United States. When I snagged a copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, I was very curious to see just what it was that caused such a large publisher to back down. This is a novelization of a portion of Muhammad’s life through the eyes of his most notorious wife. Still, he was portrayed with warmth and empathy. His charisma and love of Allah are obvious, but so is his humanity. While I suppose any fictionalization of Muhammad may anger some Muslims, no offense was intended. Canceling this publication was much ado about nothing.
As most established religions have struggled against the treatment of women and their roles in society, A’isha’s character is especially interesting as (to Western eyes) Muslim women seemed to be the most imprisoned by their faith, family, and spouse. The only issue I had with this novel was the story line surrounding the way in which the rules surrounding facial covering became part of Muslim life. Making a vision seem convenient to Muhammad felt like an “easy out” that was not at all in line with his character. I do not know exactly how this came to be part of the Islam faith, but it seems to have sprang more from the existing culture than from Allah.
The Jewel of Medina is a fast paced and engrossing look at the beginnings of Islam through the eyes of a young girl who eventually becomes the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad. At the beginning I was reminded of The 19th Wife because of the common themes of plural marriage and being married to a prophet. The 19th Wife and The Jewel of Medina are both ambitious novels attempting to provide insight on the origins of world religions through the stories of the women involved. Interesting that both novels would be published this year. For me, Jones’ novel worked where Ebershoff’s did not. From the moment that A’isha is married to the much older Muhammad, I could not put the book down. This novel’s insights into living among sister-wives were more compelling and, as there is only one voice telling the story, the reader is always fully aware of the opinions coloring the story. While we can’t truly understand today without knowledge of the past, by leaving the modern out of The Jewel of Medina Sherry Jones brought early Arabic culture and the roots of Islam to life without much of the cynicism of today.
I cannot recommend this novel enough. It is a wonderful way to learn about the origins of Islam through the eyes of a complex and strong young girl and then woman. A’isha does not conform to my ideas of a typical Muslim woman anymore than she did during her day and age. She had to fight for her place in Muhammad’s harim and for the place of women in her society. Being so much younger than her husband, A’isha’s story does not end upon Muhammad’s death and I am eagerly waiting for the sequel. The Jewel of Medina, like all of the historical fiction I’ve enjoyed, has peaked my interest in Islam, Muhammad and his wives. I absolutely enjoyed the adventure and I’m sure you will, too.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: Alabama, book review, cancer, fiction, friendship, Georgia, Raymond L. Atkins, redemption, Southern fiction, The Front Porch Prophet
The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins
When you pick up a good novel written about the south by a Southern author, you can tell. There is just something about that area and the writers it creates that is unique, remarkable and gorgeous. Had William Faulkner, Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell not been from the south, their novels would not be remembered today. Had a writer with equal skill but who grew up outside of the south written To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel would have been condescending and the characters a mere stereotype. Atticus would have inevitably been a Yankee and Boo Radley would have been nothing more than a sideshow freak resulting from inbreeding. It took a southerner to shed light on the southern life in such an honest, warm and loving way. Atkins does just that in his debut novel.
The Front Porch Prophet tells the story of A.J. Longstreet, a man who lost his mother at birth. He was raised in Sequoya, Georgia by his father and grandmother and he became an honorable man with a loving wife and three children, all named after authors. He loved his family and his home, but was unfulfilled in his job supervising at the local mill. He was content to stay where he was until he reconciled with his life-long friend, Eugene Purdue. Eugene, who grew up in an unhappy marriage and had a seemingly never ending wild streak, learned that he had terminal cancer. He asked A.J. to come up to visit him up on his mountain to make amends and to ask him to do the unthinkable – put him out of his misery when the time came. A.J. had no intentions of killing Eugene, but he agreed to visit him regularly. The rekindled friendship brings up old memories, both good and bad. As he aids, supports, comforts and helps Eugene find the redemption he is seeking through his last days, A.J. is forced to reconsider his beliefs and look at what truly makes him feel whole and happy.
When bad things happen to Southerners, they don’t lose their sense of humor. You are never truly defeated so long as you don’t stop laughing at yourself. Atkins breathes life into this world. He writes of A.J. and Eugene’s lives with an easy sarcastic wit that is authentically Southern. A.J. and Eugene are not the only characters in Sequoya, either. The signs displayed in the window of the town’s only restaurant that is owned by a born again Christian are hilarious and ingenious. By far, my favorite feature of this novel were the snippets of the letters Eugene wrote and sent out to the people of Sequoya after his death. They appear at the beginning of each chapter, but they reflect back up the previous chapter. His letter to the town sheriff still has chuckling when I think about it. As it is, is I quickly lost count of the times I laughed out loud while reading this novel.
As much as I loved the books humor, what stays with me from The Front Porch Prophet is its message about the enduring power of friendship and forgiveness. It made me happy to be human. For all of our weaknesses, we have the ability to overcome them and make them right. This is a novel I will be reading again many times. It promises to hold something new each time I read it. This may very well be my favorite novel of 2008. I can’t recommend it enough.
Have you read this novel? I’d love to hear what you think.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: BBC, book review, Channel Islands, fiction, Historical Fiction, lesbian artists, Libby Cone, Nazi occupation, rations, resistance movement, starvation during war, treatment of Jews during Nazi occupation, War on the Margins, wireless radio usage during WWII, WWII
War on the Margins: A Novel by Libby Cone
When France fell to the Nazis during WWII, the Channel Islands fell as well, despite the fact that they were a part of the British Commonwealth. Jersey, the Southern-most of the three islands, is the setting of Libby Cone’s novel about the way in which the Channel islands and its citizens were impacted by Nazi occupation. Here, we meet Marlene Zimmer, an anxious single, orphaned woman in her mid to late 20s working for the Jersey Aliens Office. This is where Jersey citizens were requested and then forced to register as Jews when they met the ever broadening requirements. Although she considers herself a Christian and a British citizen, her father was Jewish. When the office is finally instructed to classify Jews as foreigners, Marlene’s nerves can no longer take the stress. She leaves her work, her flat, and her identity behind to hide on the island in hopes of somehow surviving the remainder of the war. What she finds is work on the Resistance and a place to belong with Lucille and Suzanne, partners in life, art, and politics.
There are several stories told in this novel: Marlene’s reaction to Nazi occupation and her Jewish heritage, Lucy and Suzanne’s early life and current work resisting the occupation, and Peter’s journey as a Jew imprisoned and shipped to the Channel Islands for slave labor. Marlene is the main character and her life flows through those of Lucy, Suzanne, and Peter. I was most interested in Lucy and Suzanne’s story. They were fascinating women and I enjoyed reading about their work for the Resistance. As much as I liked Marlene, I would have loved to have read a novel entirely about them.
Intermixed within each character’s stories, there were chapters containing official communications between the Nazis to the Aliens Office and the registered Jews on Jersey requesting information about their status and their future. While Marlene worked for the Aliens Office, it made sense to me that they were there – as if Marlene was reading them and discovering what was happening. After that, If felt that they got in my way. This is partially due to the fact that the novel’s layout is structured with double spaces between lines which made these sections especially hard to read. After I found that I could follow the political changes easily through the context of the story, I began skimming and then skipping them altogether.
War on the Margins brought a perspective of the Resistance Movement during WWII that was unique and interesting. I found the strength and creativity of Lucy and Suzanne refreshing and engaging. This novel has encouraged me to look more into underground efforts against the Nazis in occupied territories. Although the formatting of the text was unusual, I quickly got used to it with the exception of the communication chapters. The novel read quickly and kept me interested throughout. It would suggest this book to anyone interested in WWII, living under Nazi occupation, and the Resistance.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: book review, Carlyon, Elinor Rochdale, England's Regency Period, Eustace Cheviot, fiction, Georgette Heyer, mystery, Regency Romance, rural England, The Reluctant Widow
Elinor Rochdale, the daughter of a disgraced member of the aristocracy, is headed by coach to a rural village where she has been offered a position as a governess for a wealthy family. She is bored to tears by working as a governess, but since her father’s suicide, she has no other choice. Her extended family has been less than gracious to her. As she steps off the coach, a driver asks her if she is the one who answered the advertisement in the paper. After she says yes, she is shuttled into a wonderfully luxurious carriage and taken quite a distance. Although it is very cold outside, she is snug in the carriage and quite surprised that the family hiring her would go to such lengths to see that she arrives in comfort. What is not yet known is that the driver was talking about an entirely different advertisement. Mr. Carlyon posted for a woman to marry his disreputable cousin, Eustace Cheviot. This misunderstanding takes Elinor’s life into quite an unexpected and mysterious direction.
Carlyon, a wealthy landowner and Eustace’s reluctant guardian. He is under suspicion of acting in his own best interests, not his cousin’s. Because of Eustace’s near constant drunkenness and gambling problems, there wasn’t much in his estate that wasn’t owed to debtors. Still, Eustace held title to Highnoons, an estate he inherited from his mother, that was near Carlyon’s own estate. Highnoons was no price, however. Eustace let it fall into disrepair just as he had his own young body. As such, Carlyon was desperate to marry Eustace off, so that he would inherit nothing from the young man upon his death and thus be free of suspicion. When Elinor walks into his home, he sees her as the answer to his situation and will not take no for an answer. Despite her protests, Carlyon knew that she would accept his offer after he learned that she grew up in privilege. He may have found an inheritor for Highnoons, but he did not gain the return to a more trouble-free life. Elinor proved to be a tough customer, not easily won over like most others. Time and time again, Carlyon had to prove himself by her.
The Reluctant Widow is full of interesting characters, humor and farce. Elinor is a strong woman who, despite everyone’s deference to Mr. Carlyon, tries to stand up to his requests. She cannot understand why others, even those who have just met him, are so eager to follow his commands. She enjoys the fight every bit as much as he does. Nicky, Carlyon’s younger brother, and his dog Bouncer provide a lot of laughs as this young man tries clumsily to live up to his brother’s reputation. I enjoyed watching Elinor’s relationship with Nicky grow throughout the novel. Despite having married into the family only a few hours before becoming a widow, it is clear that Elinor was the right fit for that family. Nicky needed her solid feminine influence just as much as she needed his company to keep from growing too morose and frightened over the situation at Highnoons.
This is the first novel I have read taking place in England’s Regency period and I absolutely loved it. It would be the perfect book to get lost in while curled up in bed or on the couch. I thought I was taking a chance on this book because I’m not one who normally reads books classified as historical romance. I’m afraid I may have underestimated the genre. Not all romances are equal and this is far from the a Harlequin title and more engaging to me than something by Danielle Steel. After just one novel, I can see her quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors. I am very excited that SourceBooks is reissuing many of Georgette Heyer’s 50+ novels. If you haven’t read Georgette Heyer or would not normally pick up a historical romance, I strongly encourage you to give The Reluctant Widow a try.
This review is lovingly dedicated to Dewey, a woman who helped make the book blogging community what it is today.
A special thanks to Bethany at B&b exlibris for designing this beautiful graphic.
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: 18th Centry America, book review, Christine Blevins, colonial America, evil eye, fiction, Historical Fiction, indentured servants, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, midwifery, Scotland, Shawanee, tobacco, Virginia, Viriginia Colony
Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins
Maggie Duncan lost her family as a very young girl during a massacre between the British and the Scottish. Her destiny falls into place when she helps a injured man find his way home to his wife, Hannah. Hannah, a midwife and local healer, realizes almost instantly that her husband’s gangrene will end his life. Childless, she sees Maggie’s arrival as the blessing to bloom from her husband’s death. She takes Maggie under her wings and teaches her healing and midwifery. Unfortunately, the little Scottish town in which they live is superstitious. They think that Maggie is bad luck given what happened to her parents. They believe she possesses the powers of the evil eye. When Hannah gets sick with consumption, she gives Maggie one last gift before she dies – she plants the seed about going to the America. After Hannah’s death, Maggie is living hand to mouth. When she’s offered the opportunity to sale to America at the cost of spending four years as an indentured servant, Hannah’s words come back to her and she travels to find her destiny in the New World.
The Midwife of the Blue Ridge is an engaging novel about the joys, struggles, and courage of those who took the risk of leaving their home land in order to make their own way in Virginia. From the very beginning, America was seen as a land of opportunity to those whose futures in their home countries was set from the moment of their conception. It says a great deal that people would knowingly agree to four years of indentured service under unknown masters in order to have a shot at creating their own fortunes and secure their own land. Christine Blevins brings this all to life through Maggie, Seth Martin and Tom Roberts. Just as vividly, Blevins writes of those who were forced to go to the New World by their privileged and wealthy families found them to be an embarrassment best kept an ocean away. Their resentment over their circumstances colored their view of this new land and how they treated other people. In the Colonial Virginia painted in this novel, it is a toss up as to who was more savage, the Shawnee warriors or the disgraced lords of England.
Maggie Duncan is one of the most delightful heroines I’ve encountered in a long time. Although her accent was difficult for me to catch on to at first, I was soon caught up in the story of this clever, sassy, and giving young woman. The very scrappiness that was viewed suspiciously by her Scottish kinsmen was what kept her safe and gave her the advantage she needed to get off to a good start as Seth’s servant. She endeared herself to Seth, Naomi and their children by her generous spirit and her strong work ethic. Her sarcastic spunkiness endeared her to almost every single man she encountered. I admired her optimistic yet pragmatic attitude toward life and the courage she displayed under the most stressful conditions found in the Virginia wilderness. I enjoyed every minute I spent with her and hope that my daughters growing up in the Blue Ridge of Virginia four centuries later will develop her same strength of character.
Over the past couple of years I’ve read a great deal of wonderful historical fiction. For the most part, I’ve shied away from historical fiction set in my own country. I have read The Winthrop Woman and Devil Water by Anya Seton and, while they were both novels I enjoyed, they did not ignite in me the same excitement for my country’s history that Midwife of the Blue Ridge has. Colonial America, just like Tudor England and Venice has its own charms and dangers to explore. After reading Blevins’ novel, I am looking forward to spending some more time at home.
Christine Blevins was kind enough to send me two copies of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, but that’s not all. She also sent some wonderful smelling goodies! If you would like a chance to win your own copy of Midwife of the Blue Ridge, a bar of handmade lavender soap and a bag of tea leaves, please leave a comment below about your favorite heroine or your favorite destination when you read historical fiction by 11:59pm EST on Monday, November 24. I’ll take all the entries and add them to the List Randomizer. The first name in the list will win the grand prize. The last name in the list will also win a bag of tea leaves. Based on the way the tea leaves smell, they will make a wonderful and relaxing cup of hot goodness during the winter. The winners will be announced by noon EST on the 25th. Good luck!
To buy this novel on Amazon.com, click here.
Tags: book review, fiction, Finding Nouf, living in a Muslim country, murder mystery, role of women in Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia, Zoe Ferraris
Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris
Nayir, a devout Muslim of Palestinian descent, has created a life for himself in Saudi Arabia as a desert guide. Although he longs for the marriage that alludes him because he is an orphan with no one with whom to negotiate such a contract, he takes pride in the honorable life he leads and enjoys the home he has created for himself on his house boat. Over time, he has created a good relationship with the prominent and powerful Shrawi family due to his faithful service to them. When Nouf, one of their daughters turns up missing and feared lost in the desert, he is proud that he is asked to help locate her. When she is ultimately found dead, her brother Othman asks him as a special favor to look into her death, Nayir takes his role seriously. What he discovers is that investigating Nouf’s death requires that he questions who he is, who his friends are, his faith, and the role of women in the home and in society.
While Saudi Arabia is a world away from the United States, there are some things that are universal – when a suspicious murder takes place in a powerful family, the roadblocks are numerous. You can never be sure if someone is helping you are purposefully leading you down the wrong path. What makes his investigation even more trying for his is that Nayir is forced to come face to face with much that finds immoral and debase in modern society. When he goes upon Othman’s request to bring Nouf’s body home for burial, he faints at the sight of her naked body. He takes his faith seriously and cannot deal with the feelings he has seeing a woman like that, even though she’s dead. He also has great difficulty coming to terms with the one person equally determined to bring Nouf’s killer to justice – Katya. She is Othman’s fiance and she is the embodiment of a modern Muslim woman. She works outside of the home in the coroner’s office and is outspoken and aggressive. As they get closer to uncovering the truth about Nouf’s life and death, Nayir worries about how much his investigation will cost him.
Finding Nouf, Zoë Ferraris’ first novel, is compelling both as a murder mystery and as an examination of modern MIddle Eastern society. Through Nayir eyes, I feel I got an honest understanding of the origins and intentions behind Muslim customs. His shame and his fear of change were real. I shared his anxiety as his involvement with Katya grew and called his friendship with Othman into question as well as his own political safety. While he is like a chameleon going between the desert and the water, he has a great deal of difficulty handling social change and coming face to face with cultural hypocrisy. Nayir is the most genuine and honest character I’ve met this year. I whole-heartedly recommend this novel.
To buy this novel, click here.