Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Finding Nouf is one of ten winners of the 2009 Alex Awards for “adult books that will appeal to teen readers.” I read it a week or two ago before the award list came out, and I must say that I was impressed, although I didn’t think of it as an adult book or a young adult book. It’s shelved with the adult mysteries in my library.

Finding Nouf, although written in a genre, detective stories, that’s know for its plot-driven novels, is all about setting first, and then characterization. The plot is serviceable, but not what kept me reading. In fact, I had to look back at the book just now to remind myself whodunnit. The story is set in Saudi Arabia, where a Palestinian orphan, Nayir, and a young professional, Katya Hijazi, team up to solve the disappearance and murder of a rich Saudi sixteen year old, Nouf. Nouf happens to be the sister of Miss Hijazi’s fiance and Nayir’s friend, Othman Shrawi. And even though Nayir is uncomfortable with the mere presence of Katya Hijazi, a single woman, in the same room with men, and sometimes unveiled, he realizes that the tow of them need to work together if they are going to navigate the rules, written and unwritten, of Saudi culture and society and find out what really happened to Nouf.

The relationships of men and women in such a legalistic, religion-drenched society are complicated and awkward. Modernity is an influence, as is tradition, and both fight against the exigencies of just getting things done, like a murder investigation or even a simple meal. It was fascinating to read about how naive and ignorant Nayir was in the area of relating to women, and yet I wondered if men in our “open and free” American society understand women any better than Nayir does.

Zoe Ferraris, by the way, lived in Saudi Arabia with her Saudi-Palestinian husband just after the first Gulf War, although she is now divorced and lives in San Francisco.

LA TImes article about the book: “Now there is “Finding Nouf,” the fictional outcome of San Franciscan Zoë Ferraris’ habitation in Saudi Arabia for several years after the first Gulf War. Even if that information had been left off the jacket flap, it would be readily apparent; only a writer with experience both as a part of and apart from Saudi culture could have crafted such a novel.”

At Talifoon by Zoe Ferraris (a short, but revealing, article about Ms. Ferraris’s life in Saudi Arabia): “Just after the first Gulf War, I moved to Jeddah with my husband. I didn’t realize at the time that I hadn’t married Essam, I had married his mother and the women of his family. The minute I arrived, they became my world.”

An interview with Zoe Ferraris: “The biggest revelation I had in Saudi Arabia was learning that men were just as frustrated by gender segregation as women were. My ex-husband’s best friend tried for years to find a wife. It surprised me to realize something that should have been obvious: if you’re not allowed to speak to the opposite sex, how do you meet a mate?”

I found this book on the recommendation of Sam Sattler at Book Chase. Thanks, Sam.

Children’s Fiction of 2007: Camel Rider by Prue Mason

Camel Rider, first published in Australia in 2004, was published in its first US edition in 2007, making it eligible to be considered for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction. And it’s been nominated.

I read the book a couple of weeks ago. It’s set in a fictional city, Abudai, that’s “typical of any one of the many oil-rich states in the Arabian Gulf.” The two main characters, Adam and Walid, are both both non-natives of Abudai. Adam is the spoiled son of an Australian pilot who has a job working for Abudai Airlines. Walid is a Bangladeshi boy, sold into virtual slavery to become a camel rider for a man called Old Goat and his partner Breath of Dog. (You’ve got to like those names, or nicknames. Walid doesn’t have a real name; according to the book, “walid” means boy.)

When war comes to Abudai, Adam and Walid are both lost in the desert. They find each other and manage to communicate despite their lack of a common language. So, Camel Rider is basically a survival story with a little bit of multicultural understanding mixed in. And coming of age, growing up. The most interesting parts of the book deal with the misunderstandings that come about when Adam and Walid try to work together to escape the desert and avoid Walid’s captors who think they own him. The differences in cultural norms, which could have been laughable had the two boys not been in such a critical situation, become a microcosm of the worldwde misunderstandings and differences that cause war between countries.

I’m a little tired of reading about spoiled rotten kids who eventually turn out to save the day or win the prize or something else great. (Code Orange by Caroline Cooney, Spelldown by Karen Luddy) Rotten kids thrown into crisis don’t always rise to the occasion. Sometimes, they crash. Nevertheless, the adventure part of Camel Rider, when Adam, who’s nearly thirteen years old, grows up and begins to act like a fairly responsible kid, is engaging, and there’s the added advantage of learning something about the customs and culture of the Arabian pennisula in a relatively painless way. Then, of course, without the plot device of Adam’s irresponsibly running away at a critical moment, there would be no story.

Camel Rider was nominated for the Cybil Award by Kristen of pixie stix kids pix (say that fast three times), and although I searched her site for a review, I couldn’t find one. If you’ve reviewed the book, please leave a comment, and I’ll link.

Week 15 of World Geography: Saudi Arabia

We started “back to school” a couple of weeks ago, starting with this study of one of the key counries in the Middle East. I thought I’d post these lists/plans a couple of weeks behind where we are actually studying so that I could tell you what we did and what worked and maybe what didn’t.
Modest Mussgorsky—Pictures at an Exhibition

Mission Study:
1. Window on the World: United Arab Emirates
2. WotW: Beja
3. WotW: Oman
4. WotW: Qatar
5. WotW: Saudi Arabia

My Poetry Book: We’ve just been reading random poems from this book, some about winter or January or home life. Some funny stuff. Tomorrow I plan to find a poem for each of the children to memorize in preparation fo another poetry night.

Astronomy: Stars We did a week long unit on the stars, reading several easy picture science books aloud. Sometimes I had Karate Kid (age 9) read the book for the day to his little sisters, ages 7 and 5.

Nonfiction Read Alouds:
Arabs in the Golden Age–Moktefi We didn’t manage to get to this book because, although I know we have it somewhere, I can’t find it. In spite of the fact that I think our books are really organized, this sort of thing happens way too often.

Fiction Read Alouds:
King of the Wind—Henry I started reading this one to the little girls, but they don’t know anything about horses or horse racing. So they were bored, and I was bored. We’ll find something else.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons–Cohen Karate Kid and Brown Bear Daughter really, really liked this one. We’ve been reading it for the past two weeks and should finish tomorrow.

Picture Books:
The Camel Who Took a Walk–Tworkov

Elementary Readers:
Ali and the Golden Eagle—Grover
The Horse and His Boy—Lewis I know this book is fantasy, doesn’t take place in the Middle East at all, but it does have that flavor.
Nadia the Willful—Alexander
The Rise of Islam–Moktefi
A Sixteenth Century Mosque–Macdonald Karate Kid read this book as his assigned reader.

Brown Bear Daugter read Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller as her assigned reader to help me with my Cybils judging responsibilities. She absolutely loved it, and I think she’ll be writing a guest review for the blog soon.

We also learned the Middle East song from the Geography Songs tape and did some map study. My children now know where Saudi Arabia is and in addition they can find Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait, among several Middle Eastern countries in the song.

Previous posts in our Around the World 2006-2007 homeschool unit study.