Monday, August 3, 2009

Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris

Undoubtedly one of the best books I have read in months. Maybe even years. However, I have NO doubt that not everyone will agree with my assessment of Finding Nouf. For me the book was fascinating because I was allowed an inside look into a culture that I am imminently curious about.

Finding Nouf is a murder mystery set in modern day Saudi Arabia. Zoë Ferraris, the author, is an American who was married to a Bedouin and lived in Saudia Arabia for a time. Therefore, she has an American's knowledge and perspective but an insider's view of a world that is rarely open to Americans. The thing that I appreciated the most, given that background, was that Ferraris was NOT condemnatory towards the Saudis. She does acknowledge problems within the society, but she never suggests that the choices the Saudis have made are across the board wrong. Peopling her book exclusively (aside from two very small tertiary characters) with Saudi citizens, she show the variety of beliefs and lifestyles within a very closed world.

The main character Nayir, is a pious Saudi (Palestinian) man who believes in the rules of his society. When a friend's daughter disappears he agrees to help search for her in the desert. Questions arise about her death and he cannot reconcile himself to the answerless questions that remain. He continues to investigate and through unusual circumstances enlists the help of his friends fiancée. The resolution to the crime is interesting, but not overwhelmingly novel.

The relationships between Nayir and his friends and family really make the story for me. Nayir lives in a world in which looking at a woman is a sin and speaking with a woman who is not his wife is a crime. As the book progresses, the reader begins to unravel the frustrations he has because he has no access to women at all. He would like to marry but has no social openings available to allow him to interact with women. Ferraris does a good job of not suggesting that this social realm is wrong; it just *is*.

As Americans we have such strong opinions about the Islamic world. And the information that we have about Saudi Arabia is so heavily influenced by politics and the media that finding a book that gives an honest insight into the Saudi world is difficult, if not impossible. I can't think of a non-fiction book that I could read which would give me as genuine an understanding of Saudi Arabian life as Finding Nouf. I recognize that it is still fiction. But, from my limited experience, I would like to suggest that it is a fictional story in a real world.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who wanted to better understand the conservative Islamic world without getting a negative spin on the choices the people have made (or had made for them).

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