Summary and book reviews of Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris

Finding Nouf

By Zoë Ferraris

Finding Nouf
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2008,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: May 2009,
    320 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

Zoë Ferraris’s electrifying debut of taut psychological suspense offers an unprecedented window into Saudi Arabia and the lives of men and women there.

When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, along with a truck and her favorite camel, her prominent family calls on Nayir al-Sharqi, a desert guide, to lead a search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. But when the coroner’s office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened to her.

This mission will push gentle, hulking, pious Nayir, a Palestinian orphan raised by his bachelor uncle, to delve into the secret life of a rich, protected teenage girl -- in one of the most rigidly gender-segregated of Middle Eastern societies. Initially horrified at the idea of a woman bold enough to bare her face and to work in public, Nayir soon realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner’s office. Their partnership challenges Nayir, bringing him face to face with his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs. It also ultimately leads them both to surprising revelations.

Fast-paced and utterly transporting, Finding Nouf offers an intimate glimpse inside a closed society and a riveting literary mystery.

First published as Night of the Mi'raj in the UK.

Excerpt
Finding Nouf

Before the sun set that evening, Nayir filled his canteen, tucked a prayer rug beneath his arm, and climbed the south-facing dune near the camp. Behind him came a burst of loud laughter from one of the tents, and he imagined that his men were playing cards, probably tarneeb, and passing the siddiqi around. Years of traveling in the desert had taught him that it was impossible to stop people from doing whatever they liked. There was no law out here, and if the men wanted alcohol, they would drink. It disgusted Nayir that they would wake up on Friday morning, the holy day, their bodies putrefied with gin. But he said nothing. After ten days of fruitless searching, he was not in the mood to chastise.

He scaled the dune at an easy pace, stopping only once he’d reached the crest. From here he had a sprawling view of the desert valley, crisp and flat, surrounded by low dunes that undulated in the golden color of sunset. But his eye ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
When sixteen-year-old Nouf ash-Shrawi goes missing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, her wealthy family suspects that she's run away to the desert to escape her imminent marriage. Her brother Othman calls on his good friend Nayir to help find her. However, after ten futile days of searching, it is not Nayir but some anonymous desert travelers who find her body. Unable to let go of his failure to help Othman, Nayir determines that he must at least try to find out what really happened to Nouf—for despite the official coroner's report and the family's desire for privacy, foul play seems likely and the many unanswered questions refuse to leave him in peace. The search will force religiously conservative Nayir to face...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Finding Nouf is as much a riveting mystery as it is an absorbing profile of the conflict between the traditional and the modern in Saudi Arabian/Islamic culture.

Ferraris, an American who spent some time in Saudi Arabia, clearly came away with a comprehension of and sensitivity to the virtues and the flaws of a culture that pours through her characters' thoughts and actions and culminates in a great read. I hope there are more adventures with Nayir and Katya to come.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews
Entertainment Weekly - Allyssa Lee

Ferraris is an American who has lived in Saudi Arabia. She conveys, without pedantry or judgment, both male and female perspectives on the deeply Muslim country, where religious police crack down on mixed company, the sight of an ''unclean'' woman can send a man back home to ritually cleanse himself, and gas costs 52 cents a gallon. The thriller plot is well paced. But it's the individual journeys of Nayir and Katya, who abide by their society's strictures even as they are frustrated by them, that elevate Finding Nouf to a larger human drama. B+

Kirkus Reviews

A finely nuanced first novel offering an exceptionally balanced look at male and female perspectives.

Publishers Weekly

[A] fascinating glimpse into the workings and assumptions of Saudi society. As a mystery, it's fairly well-turned, but it's the characters and setting that sparkle.

Library Journal

Ferraris offers up a fascinating peek into the lives and minds of devout Muslim men and women while serving up an engrossing mystery ... Highly recommended.

The Guardian

The author's experiences of living in Jeddah, married to a Saudi, led to the creation of this unusual detective story .... The stultifying atmosphere of Jeddah, its tedium, overwhelming heat, and the onerous restrictions of sharia law contrast delicately with the mysterious calm of the desert, the solemnity of ritual and the possibility of forging friendships in a society as multifaceted as a hall of mirrors.

The Times

This is a fascinating mystery, with a complex and likeable hero.

Financial Times - Ceridwen Dovey

Zoe Ferraris makes a wonderful contribution to the burgeoning genre of ethnographic literary crime fiction. Set in the seemingly stifling world of contemporary Saudi Arabia, where concern over propriety and righteousness governs all social interaction, this is a whodunit full of an insider's keen observations of place.

The Independent on Sunday - Ed Wood

[A] kind of Muslim Rebus …the interaction is fascinating, always aided by Ferraris’s use of well-drawn locations: the American Ladies of Jeddah meeting, the zoo, and most of all the desert with all its heat, danger and calm. Ferraris is also a natural storyteller, with a lightness of touch and a skill for drip-feeding clues to keep the reader turning the pages.

Sunday Times - Joan Smith

Ferraris’s remarkable debut is a tense psychological drama, and a riveting portrait of everyday life in a society with paranoid attitudes towards women and sex.

Reader Reviews
Susan Reiners

Way behind the headlines
This book was a shock and an eye-opener. Of course anyone who's been paying attention in the last few decades knows that Saudi Arabia is a "sexist" society. Women can't drive, vote, etc. But the big shock to me was the guilt the detective felt ...   Read More

CowardlyLion

Good but not great
The book is unusual (and remarkable) in its portrayal of not just the claustrophobic lives of women, and in many cases, men, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also in its suggestions of the tiny revolts and rebellions that will almost certainly ...   Read More

AllanP

Engrossing intro to an unknown land
"Finding Nouf" led me deep into the intricacies of relationship in an Islamic society. The religious police (feared but never seen) and the devout behaviour of the characters puts a new spin for a Westerner on the strict rules that women (and men) ...   Read More

Midwest Reader

Page-turning literary mystery!
Exotic locale, a society oppressive to women, a charming investigator, and a great story combine to make this literary mystery too good to be labeled by one genre. It is well-written enough to be literary, yet quite a page-turner, too! I really ...   Read More

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The Bedouin of Saudi Arabia

Once the undisputed masters of the desert, Bedouin tribes have diminished over the last couple of centuries – mostly due to governments intent on taxation and political control – to become only about 10% of today's Saudi population. They are still a distinct sect and although Nayir al-Sharqi is not a Bedouin by blood he has been raised as one which sets him apart from urban Arabs in several ways. First and foremost, he knows his way around the desert while his urban friends (whose ancestors were likely Bedouins) would never think of leaving home without their GPS.

Bedouins (from the Arabic word bedu, meaning inhabitants of the desert) ...

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