Ferraris's stellar second novel is again set in Saudi Arabia and features the desert guide Nayir Sharqi and forensic scientist Katya Hijazi, introduced in Finding Nouf. Nayir and Hijazi gingerly probe the death of an unconventional young woman found mutilated and half-nude on a beach near Jeddah, as well as the disappearance of an American security contractor, who, to the dismay of his American wife, had a "summer marriage" with the victim. Nayir, a sensitive but orthodox Muslim, inches toward realizing that when a woman is cloistered, a man's duties to her multiply a dozenfold, while independent-minded Katya, whom he loves, pretends to be married in order to work as a technician in Jeddah's homicide force. Katya's boss, Det. Insp. Osama Ibrahim, also loses his progressive self-image after he discovers his wife wants a career more than she wants his children. The author, who lived for a time in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s with her then husband, presents a searing portrait of the religious and cultural veils that separate Muslim women from the modern world. (Aug.)
The brutalized body of a young woman washes up on a Jeddah beach, and an American security guard disappears just after welcoming his wife back to Saudi Arabia. When the victim is identified as Leila Nawar, who flouted religious custom while making provocative films exposing the seamy side of Jeddah and questioning the purity of the Quran, the list of possible suspects grows, eventually turning up a connection to the missing Eric Walker. Working forensics on the murder, Katya Hijazi asks her friend, devout Muslim Nayir Sharqi, for help, and he struggles with his feelings for Katya while becoming involved with Eric's wife.Verdict A vividly depicted horrific desert sandstorm lifts this sequel to the acclaimed Finding Nouf above the pedestrian. But what is particularly notable here is the description by Ferraris, who once lived in the area with her then-Saudi Palestinian husband, of not only the stifling subjugation of women but also of the difficulties facing religious Muslim men in forging loving relationships. This shines as a revealing portrayal of Saudi culture. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/10.]—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA
The stifling constraints placed on Saudi women form the grim backdrop for a second mystery from Ferraris (Finding Nouf, 2008).
A mutilated female corpse washes up on a beach near Jeddah. American Miriam Walker reluctantly returns to the city to rejoin husband Eric, whose disappearance later that night proves to be related to the murder. Assigned to the case is Detective Inspector Osama Ibrahim, a relatively enlightened Muslim. He is supportive of the women the Jeddah police department has reluctantly admitted to its ranks to interview female witnesses, since even police officers cannot be alone with an unrelated member of the opposite sex. When his associate Faiza is fired because she lied about being married (a prerequisite for employment), he's willing to work with Katya, the medical examiner whose warming relationship with strict traditionalist Nayir was a central element in Finding Nouf. Katya (who's also pretending to be married) brings Nayir into the case on the flimsy pretext that his knowledge of the Quran will help as she looks for the man who hired the victim, Leila Nawar, to photograph ancient Islamic manuscripts. Leila's primary interest, however, was in filming hot-button sexual and religious material, a project in which Eric may have abetted her—and that guy sitting next to Miriam on her return flight probably had something to do with it too. The tangled mystery is of less interest than the stinging depiction of routine indignities inflicted on Saudi women, many involving the burqa they must wear to cover their faces; if they raise the veil to eat or see where they're going, they face the hostility of men who believe an uncovered woman is an abomination. Nayir, more or less of that opinion himself, struggles to adapt his beliefs to encompass his growing love for Katya, while Osama grapples with the discovery that his adored wife is taking birth-control pills. Ferraris avoids demonizing all Saudi men, while unambiguously rejecting their society's ingrained misogyny.
No final resolutions here, except to the less-than-gripping murder case, but a vividly detailed portrait of a modern land mired in medieval attitudes.
Ranya Idliby - co-author of The Faith Club
PRAISE FOR CITY OF VEILS:
"Zoë Ferraris delivers the Muslim The Da Vinci Code. It kept me up at night. I loved it!"
Los Angeles Times
PRAISE FOR FINDING NOUF:
"Ferraris shows how the clash of tradition and desire, especially for women, is fraught with danger both hidden and overt... She open[s] Saudi Arabia for mystery fans to reveal the true minds and hearts of its denizens."
"Remarkable...Its mystery takes place within a culture that has itself largely been under wraps...It's the individual journeys of Nayir and Katya, who abide by their society's strictures even as they are frustrated by them, that elevate Finding Nouf to a larger human drama."
Kathleen Kent - author of The Heretic's Daughter
"A gripping, many times disturbing, story of murder and the search for justice in an ancient society at odds with a woman's fight for independence."
Kate Furnivall - author of The Girl from Junchow
"An intense and thoughtful thriller."
Michael Koryta - author of So Cold the River
"Superb.... Ferraris is one of the most important new voices in crime fiction."
Cara Black - author of Murder in the Latin Quarter
"Lifts the veil on Saudi Arabia.... Ferraris weaves an engrossing, taut tale."
Jenny White - author of The Winter Thief
"A fascinating, insightful, and remarkably balanced look inside a society unfamiliar to most readers."
Mahbod Seraji - author of Rooftops of Tehran
"Exhilarating. Ferraris masterfully captures the nuances of the Saudi culture and its women, while brilliantly exposing the conflict between tradition and desire."
David Corbett - author of Do They Know I'm Running?
"A marvelous book. Ferraris demonstrates the instinctive authority of both an elegant stylist and a born storyteller."
Anne Zouroudi - author of The Messenger of Athens
"Taut and intelligent, set against a troubling backdrop of brutality, oppression and searing desert heat."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR CITY OF VEILS:"
Zoë Ferraris delivers the Muslim The Da Vinci Code. It kept me up at night. I loved it!"Ranya Idliby, co-author of The Faith Club"
A gripping, many times disturbing, story of murder and the search for justice in an ancient society at odds with a woman's fight for independence."Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter"
An intense and thoughtful thriller."Kate Furnivall, author of The Girl from Junchow"
Superb.... Ferraris is one of the most important new voices in crime fiction."Michael Koryta, author of So Cold the River"
Lifts the veil on Saudi Arabia.... Ferraris weaves an engrossing, taut tale."Cara Black, author of Murder in the Latin Quarter"
A fascinating, insightful, and remarkably balanced look inside a society unfamiliar to most readers."Jenny White, author of The Winter Thief"
Exhilarating. Ferraris masterfully captures the nuances of the Saudi culture and its women, while brilliantly exposing the conflict between tradition and desire."Mahbod Seraji, author of Rooftops of Tehran"
A marvelous book. Ferraris demonstrates the instinctive authority of both an elegant stylist and a born storyteller."David Corbett, author of Do They Know I'm Running?"
Taut and intelligent, set against a troubling backdrop of brutality, oppression and searing desert heat."Anne Zouroudi, author of The Messenger of Athens
PRAISE FOR FINDING NOUF:"
Ferraris shows how the clash of tradition and desire, especially for women, is fraught with danger both hidden and overt... She open[s] Saudi Arabia for mystery fans to reveal the true minds and hearts of its denizens."Los Angeles Times"
Remarkable...Its mystery takes place within a culture that has itself largely been under wraps...It's the individual journeys of Nayir and Katya, who abide by their society's strictures even as they are frustrated by them, that elevate Finding Nouf to a larger human drama."Entertainment Weekly
Read an Excerpt
City of Veils A Novel
By Ferraris, Zoë
Little, Brown and Company Copyright © 2010 Ferraris, Zoë
All right reserved.
The woman’s body was lying on the beach. “Eve’s tomb,” he would later come to think of it, not the actual tomb in Jeddah that was flattened in 1928, to squash out any cults attached to her name, nor the same one that was bulldozed again in 1975, to confirm the point. This more fanciful tomb was a plain, narrow strip of beach north of Jeddah.
That afternoon, Abu-Yussuf carried his fishing gear down the gentle slope to the sand. He was a seasoned fisherman who preferred the activity for its sport rather than its practical value, but a series of layoffs at the desalination plant had forced him to take up fishing to feed his family. Sixty-two and blessed with his mother’s skin, he had withstood a lifetime of exposure to the sun and looked as radiant as a man in his forties. He hit the edge of the shore, the hard-packed sand, with an expansive feeling of pleasure; there were certainly worse ways to feed a family. He looked up the beach and there she was. The woman he would later think of as Eve.
He set his tackle box on the sand and approached carefully in case she was sleeping, in case she sat up and wiped her eyes and mistook him for a djinn. She was lying on her side, her dark hair splayed around her head like the tentacles of a dangerous anemone. The seaweed on her cloak looked at first like some sort of horrible growth. One arm was tucked beneath the body; the other one was bare, and it rested on the sand in a pleading way, as a sleeper might clutch a pillow during a bad dream. The hand was mutilated; it looked to be burned. There were numerous cuts on the forearm. Her bottom half was naked, the black cloak pushed up above her waist, the jeans she was wearing tangled around her feet like chains. His attention turned to the half of her face that wasn’t buried in sand. Whole sections of her cheeks and lips were missing. What remained of the skin was swollen and red, and there were horrible cuts across her forehead. One eye was open, vacant, dead.
“Bism’allah, ar-rahman, ar-rahim,” he began to whisper. The prayer spooled from his mouth as he stared dumbfounded and horrified. He knew he shouldn’t look, he shouldn’t want that sort of image knocking around in his memory, but it took an effort to turn away. Her left leg was half buried in the sand, but now that he was closer, he saw that the right one was cut around the thigh, the slashes bulbous and curved like tamarinds. The rest of the skin was unnaturally pale and bloated. He knew better than to touch the body, but he had the impulse to lay something over the exposed half of her, to give her a last bit of dignity.
He had to go back up to the street to get a good cellular signal. The police came, then a coroner and a forensics team. Abu-Yussuf waited, still clutching his fishing rod, the tackle box planted firmly by his feet. The young officer who first arrived on the scene treated him with affection and called him “uncle.” Would you like a drink, uncle? A chair? I can bring a chair. They interviewed him politely. Yes, uncle, that’s important. Thank you. The whole time, he kept the woman in his line of sight. Out of politeness, he didn’t stare.
While the forensics team worked, Abu-Yussuf began to feel crushingly tired. He sensed that shutting his eyes would lead to a dangerous sleep, so he let his eyes drift out to sea, let his thoughts drift further. Eve. Her real tomb was in the city. It had always seemed strange that she was buried in Jeddah, and that Adam was buried in Mecca. Had they had a falling-out after they were exiled from the Garden of Eden? Or had Adam, like so many men today, simply died first, giving Eve time to wander? His grandmother, rest her soul, once told him that Eve had been 180 meters tall. His grandmother had seen Eve’s grave as a girl, before the king’s viceroy had demolished the site. It had been longer than her father’s entire camel caravan.
One of the forensics men bent over the body. Abu-Yussuf snapped out of his reverie and caught a last glimpse of the girl’s bare arm. Allah receive her. He leaned over and picked up his tackle box, felt a rush of nausea. Swallowing hard, he looked up to the street and began to walk with an energy he didn’t really have. Uncle, can I assist? This was another officer, taller than the first, with a face like a marble sculpture, all smooth angles and stone. The officer didn’t give him time to protest. He took Abu-Yussuf’s arm and they walked up together, taking one slow step at a time. The going became easier when he imagined Eve, a gargantuan woman stomping across cities as if they were doormats. She could have taken this beach with one leap. Pity it was only the modern woman who had been rendered so small and frail.
Excerpted from City of Veils by Ferraris, Zoë Copyright © 2010 by Ferraris, Zoë. Excerpted by permission.
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