Sunday, 12 March 2017

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

First published in America by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in January 2007. Published in the UK as The Night Of The Mi'raj.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
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Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Gift from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir al-Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. But when the coroner's office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened. He quickly realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner's office who is bold enough to bare her face and to work in public. Their partnership challenges Nayir and forces him to reconcile his desire for female companionship within the parameters imposed by his beliefs.'

Finding Nouf (or The Night Of The Mi'raj if you're in the UK - same book, different titles, no idea why!) is a crime mystery of amateur sleuths searching to find out why a teenaged girl died alone, miles from home, in a desert wadi. I think the novel is intended for a young adult audience so, refreshingly for crime fiction, there are practically no depictions of violence or graphic autopsies to contend with. Instead Ferraris pitches more towards literary fiction by detailing how the lives of desert guide Nayir and lab technician Katya are shaped and guided by both their religion and by the strict social etiquette enforced in Saudi Arabian society. The book is very readable and I zoomed through it in little more than a day. I enjoyed the mystery which is nicely plotted and progresses at a good pace, especially considering this is a debut novel. The characters aren't particularly deep, but there is a good sense of atmosphere and I enjoyed evocative descriptions of varied Saudi Arabian landscapes, rural and urban.

I was concerned however by the contrast between how Finding Nouf is marketed and the accuracy of information within its pages. Ferraris, an American woman, did spend time living in Saudi Arabia and obviously has experienced the country, but there are glaring errors in her research - even I know that Hajj only happens once per year for example - and her perpetual criticisms of Muslim culture give an unbalanced view pandering to the idea of all Muslim women being desperate to throw off their burquas and embrace Americanisation. While I am sure that some do, I am equally as sure that others don't and, to me, Finding Nouf felt as though it had been written for a Western audience who would already have decided how they felt about life in Saudi Arabia and wouldn't appreciate having their assumptions challenged. I thought this a shame as I would have preferred to read authentically Saudi viewpoints. However if you can look past this relentless chafing, then Finding Nouf is an entertaining and unusual addition to the lighter crime genre.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Zoe Ferraris / Crime fiction / Books from America

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