Shifting desert sands and shifting attitudes reveal the complexities—and hypocrisy—of Saudi life.
Nouf ash-Shrawi, the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy Saudi family, has disappeared shortly before her much-anticipated marriage. Her brother Othman hires desert guide and tracker Nayir al-Sharqi to find her. Palestinian by birth, Nayir embraces the Bedouin culture that most Saudis claim as their birthright but have abandoned for a materialistic urban lifestyle. From the Bedouin he has learned to read the desert sands for information about landmarks, changes in the weather and prey. He also hides behind rigid Islamic beliefs that emphasize how women lead men to sin. What he learns about Nouf and the other privileged Shrawi women contrasts with his view of the ideal woman as humble, modest and devout. After Nouf is found dead in the desert, Nayir meets medical examiner Katya Hijazi, who is engaged to marry Nouf’s brother. Nayir interprets Katya’s professional confidence as brazen, even sinful, but they are drawn together by the belief that Nouf’s official cause of death hides the truth (also hidden is the fact that she was pregnant). Nayir and Katya eventually uncover the oppression and suppressed desires that fester behind the Shrawi family’s elegant façade. Gradually, Nayir recognizes that an insightful, intelligent woman like Katya can be worthy of his admiration. Ferraris peppers her well-paced text with telling details about Islamic practices. At Nouf’s burial, for example, the body is positioned in such a way so that the fetus, not the mother, faces Mecca.
A finely nuanced first novel offering an exceptionally balanced look at male and female perspectives.