Chandraratna continues the story begun in Mirage (see below) of a decent but naïve Saudi hospital porter whose life is ruined by his country’s religious zealots.
The earlier novel describes the hard and bitter life of Sayeed, a peasant from a small village in Saudi Arabia who left his father’s farm to find work in the capital. Like many other impoverished farmers, he settled in a shantytown on the outskirts of the city and eventually found menial work in a hospital. On a subsequent visit to his native village, Sayeed agreed to marry a young widow named Latifa, and after the marriage they moved back to the shantytown with Latifa’s daughter Leila. Chaotic, overpopulated, and neglected by the authorities, the shantytown is largely ruled by the mutawah, a religious figure who keeps order through an elaborate system of spies and informers. When Latifa is caught in the act of adultery, the mutawah sentences her and her lover to death, despite Sayeed’s pleas for clemency. After the execution he wanders into the desert in a daze and nearly dies. He is nursed back to health by Abdul Mubarek, a lab technician at his hospital who takes Leila into his home and raises her as his own. After his recovery Sayeed returns to work and tries to resume a normal life, but he is consumed with grief and blames himself for Latifa’s death, since he brought her to the city in the first place. During a visit home, he meets a childhood friend, now a terrorist, who tells him it’s his duty to avenge Latifa’s death and even gives him a dagger to carry out the deed. Back in the city Sayeed becomes more and more obsessed with vengeance and begins to stalk the mutawah through the back alleys of the shantytown. Can he redeem Latifa’s blood? Or must he appeal to a higher authority?
A good follow-up, written with the same clarity, simplicity, and purity of feeling that marks its predecessor.