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 Nearly five crisis-packed decades in the lives of traditionally reared Egyptian women--complete with all the makings of a possible bestseller: a smooth-as-silk narration, a graceful approximation of the ritual concerns and courtesies of another culture, a few fightin' female hearts within the bonds of womanly repression, and the inevitable scandals, secrets, and forbidden loves within an upper-caste Cairo household. Heading the women's household of Dr. Ibraham Rasheed is his stately mother, Amira, whose firm upholding of the old ways of complete female subservience has had something to do with her past- -an early trauma not revealed until the close. In 1945, when the story begins, Ibraham, distraught at the death of his young wife in childbirth, curses God--but even more terrible is not being able to satisfy his dead father by siring a son. Ibraham adopts a baby boy, but fathers only daughters--among them his favorites, Yasmina, by his blond English wife Alice, and Camelia by his first wife. Meantime, Ibraham is personal physician to King Farouk, forced to abdicate in 1952, and is jailed for treason, while Amira raises and presides over her women, arranging marriages and comforting; eventually, it is she who not only obtains Ibraham's release but exposes a family enemy. Along the way, Yasmina, in a brutal and loveless marriage, is banished because--in a heroic effort to save the family--she is raped and thereby ``dishonors'' that family; and Camelia, sterile because of a face-saving operation, studies dancing with the famous Dahiba (another banished victim of ``honor''). Yasmina travels to California, becomes a doctor, marries, divorces, and finds true love, while at home there's a cholera epidemic, tragic and violent deaths, sad and happy pairings, and a few valiant stirrings of the female wish for liberation. A warmly gossipy family tale in an exotic setting--and, like most of Wood's novels (The Dreaming, 1991, etc.), spun off with ease and apparent pleasure in the telling. (First printing of 100,000)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41579-3
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993


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