Zoë Ferrariss 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 coroners 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 coroners 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.
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 hed 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 ...
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).
Full Review (984 words).
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
Bedouins (from the Arabic word bedu, meaning inhabitants of the desert) ...
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