Seven debut stories, each relating some kind of encounter between Muslims and Westerners.
The tales are timely enough, now that Islam has come to the forefront of the Western consciousness, even if most of them are not about Islam or Muslims so much as about encounters with Islam or Muslims. “Necati Bey,” for example, describes an American businessman in Ankara who becomes friends with a Turkish potter and inadvertently offends him with the gift of an exquisite ceramic bowl that the potter interprets as a criticism of his own work. The feminist American nurse of “The Blind Woman,” assigned to the care of a dying Somali lady, finds herself at once horrified and perplexed at the attitude of the Somali women toward female circumcision (they support it against the objections of the men)—just as the Westernized Turkish diplomat in “The Kapici’s Wife” is intrigued at the quiet fervor of an ex-prostitute who, in the years since the diplomat lost his own faith, has become a devout Muslim. Politics is very much in the background here, but there are still reminders of it, especially in the title story, about an awkward love affair carried on between an American Jew and a Palestinian Muslim—and the inevitable disaster when they travel to a family reunion in Ramallah during the height of the Intifada. The most successful pieces tend to be quiet, reflective, and less obvious—like “Irina’s Lullaby,” an elegiac account of an aristocratic Frenchwoman’s marriage to an Algerian Muslim who convinces her to sell the family chateau and use the proceeds to fund “humanitarian” work in North Africa.
Taking an outsider’s view throughout but, still, a fascinating look into a world that remains impossibly foreign and opaque to most Americans.