I find this book pretty haunting because of Noora’s gender contraints, arranged marriage, lack of choices due to her family’s lack of money and influence, and in the end her choice. Perhaps it deserves five stars and I am judging it on my reaction to the characters choices in the plot rather than on the writing itself.

In Noora’s childhood in the rural area Musandam penisula of Oman nothing was easy for her family financially but she had quite a lot of freedom to be herself up to the point where her father has become mentally ill and her brother becomes head of the family. There were some very interesting pieces here, the visits from the matchmaker, advice from her mother, local people’s understanding of madness, etc. Noora is deeply loved by a young man who she can’t marry, something that many women can relate to, the lost soul mate.  At one point she and her brother go to inquire to a witch/healer about their father’s health.  I found that an especially interesting scene.  From here everything quickly changes for Noora and she is sent off to live as the third wife to a middle age man.   The person in the household who becomes most like a friend to her is a slave girl.  Here in that family she comes to understand deception, power, family politics, and grows up quickly.   The ending for me shows how far she has come in just two years.

The descriptions of landscape and character portrayals are rich here.

Last year I vacationed in Dubai and it was interesting to see how life was quite different in the city but some things are the same like the Abra rides on Dubai creek and the souks surrounding that area. I visited the historic house, the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House and with that I could easily imagine the sort of big, traditional house with windtowers and many rooms where the pearl merchant of the story lives.  The social life of even the 1950s feels remote to the amazing modern city with tanilizingly beautiful skyscrapers and flower gardens everywhere.

This is an important book and I am glad that Maha Gargash wrote it and that my friend recommended it to me.  As a cultural insider Ms. Gargash is a perfect guide on the journey that is the plot of this novel.

Please share your book recommendations for other books that are similiar to this.

The Sand Fish: A Novel from Dubai

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