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Book Corner July 2008

Finding Nouf
Zoe Ferraris  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. Pp. 305 Hardback

Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl


Life in contemporary Saudi Arabia for the younger generation is expertly described in this murder mystery, a debut novel, by Zoe Ferraris.  At one time, the author lived as a married woman in the contexts she describes, so her insights and experiences propel this novel in a very genuine fashion.

One of the remarkable aspects of this novel is the authorís voice.  She has lived and experienced the positive and negative effects in the settings which she describes and writes of them in an engaging, balanced fashion from a novelistic rather than a polemical point of view.

The plot originates with a young, soon-to-be-married, wealthy Saudi woman who is found murdered.  A Palestinian, a desert guide named Nayir, is asked to locate her.  When she is found dead, he eventually works together with a lab technician named Katya to solve the crime.

This work is beautifully graced with a brisk pace and good plotting.  Its details are accurate in terms of landscape and social contexts.  The authorís use of both the occasional Arabic phrase as well as her adept use of English, makes the novel a pleasurable reading experience. This work contains none of the authorial adolescent writing blemishes one finds in first novels.

One significant under-lying meta-narrative in this work is the on-going tensions for the younger generation produced by the conflicts between custom and contemporary life in terms of gender relationships.  The awareness of how these are affected by class issues, religious, tribal and familial customs and the impact of globalization are inter-woven deftly throughout the story.

It is rare to read a novel about contemporary life in Saudi Arabia from someone who has experienced it firsthand.  Those books that do exist are often not in English translation. 

Hopefully this novelist will continue to create more works of this kind!