By November 22, 2011 0 Comments Read More →

Finding Nouf

After starting out our genre study with Murder in Mesopotamia (see my posting from November 18th), the group spent the back half of the discussion talking about the novel Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris. 

What is the magic that occurs when a book so invigorates a discussion group that the moderator can actually sit out and just watch the group have at it? 

With this title, part of that experience was helped by the fact that Murder in Mesopotamia proved to be a great warm up title for this book.  While initially it appears that the two books share little in common, especially because Christie chose to leave out a great deal of local color, the reality is that each book deals with the roles of women in society.  One of the societies happens to be the 1935 English as they occupied Iraq.  The other is the Islamic society that is Saudi Arabia.

I put the group on notice early that it would be easy to criticize what we read in Finding Nouf without realizing that we were being as insensitive as the British characters in Murder in Mesopotamia back in 1935.

The other issue that our group debated was the validity of the author.  While her experience of marrying a man from Saudia Arabia and living in that country for an extended length of time certainly validates her creditails to write a work set there, we also had to deal with the fact that there might be so residual anger issues that would color her portrayal of the culture.  We speculated about how a novel like this would read if the author were not an American-born citizen. 

All of that aside, Finding Nouf is a great novel and a spectacular book discussion title.  The main story involes a Palestinian orphan named Nayir ash-Sharqi who was adopted by a Saudi family and raised within a Bedouin culture.  He now works as a desert guide and is called upon by the ash-Sharawi family to explain the death of Nouf, one of the young daughters and a woman about to be married.  Her death by drowning in the desert cast suspicion across a wide net.

What is intriguing to a Western reader is that fact that Othman ash-Shrawi is engaged to Katya Hijazi.  She is working in the Crime Lab with the Medical Examiner as she waits for her upcoming marriage to Othman.  As Nayir and Kayta are forced to work together, the reader begins to understand the challenges for a man who cannot look at a woman and a woman who cannot be scene with her burka in place.  To a reader from the West, it was eye opening as to how pervasive the Islamic belief system is in every single act of every day. 

My group ran one half-hour over their time in discussing books this night.  No one left early and that may be another testament as to how well these two titles worked for us this night.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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