City of Veils: A Novel

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A riveting literary mystery that reveals the shrouded world of women in modern-day Saudi Arabia, from prizewinning author Zoe Ferraris.

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City of Veils: A Novel

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Overview

A riveting literary mystery that reveals the shrouded world of women in modern-day Saudi Arabia, from prizewinning author Zoe Ferraris.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews

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."

Entertainment Weekly
"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."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316074278
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 8/9/2010
  • Series: Katya Hijazi and Nayir Sharqi Series
  • Pages: 393
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Zoë Ferraris moved to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War to live with her then husband and his extended family of Saudi-Palestinian Bedouins, who had never welcomed an American into their lives before. She has an MFA from Columbia University and is the author of one previous novel, Finding Nouf. She lives in San Francisco.
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First Chapter

City of Veils

A Novel
By Ferraris, Zoë

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2010 Ferraris, Zoë
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316074278

1

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.



Continues...

Excerpted from City of Veils by Ferraris, Zoë Copyright © 2010 by Ferraris, Zoë. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 29 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(12)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    Mixed emotions

    This is a hard book to review as I loved the way it deals with some very difficult but fascinating subject matter concerning the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, but I found it lacking in characterization and plot. On the plus side, the setting of the book is unusual and fascinating. The author's first-hand perspective of an American woman confined to the house at the mercy of male relatives is evocative and compelling. Of the entire book, Miriam's feelings about being deposited in the "call for" room at the airport, not being able to drive herself around, and other restrictions of life in Saudi Arabia ring true and deep. On the negative side, there are so many characters in the book that none are well developed. I felt as if we were getting a snapshot of each one rather than a video. There was so jumping back and forth that I found myself skipping chapters then going back so I could follow one character at a time. And, worst of all, the ending itself felt flat after all the build-up. There was no great crime, no great discovery, just garden-variety malice and stupidity. I give this book 5 stars for atmosphere and 1 star for plot.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2012

    Not Bad

    I am not a reader of murder mysteries but I picked this one up because the story takes place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and I was curious to see how that would work out. We learn how women are treated on the local police force, about the angst of a conservative muslim man having to deal with women in an evolving Saudi society, we get a glimpse of the desert and getting around in it, and, eventually how the case is solved.
    I can't judge the merits of the book as a mystery story because I haven't read enough of them to tell if this one is exceptional or not but I can say I enjoyed reading about the setting and the culture of modern Saudi Arabia. Well done.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2012

    Fascinating

    I enjoy mysteries that also allow me to learn about different historical periods, another culture, an interesting occupation, etc. I have totally enjoyed this and Zoe Ferraris's previous book, Finding Nouf. I find myself constantly telling other people about what I am learning about life in Saudi Arabia. In the midst of this, the mystery (or mysteries - counting the previous book) are well plotted with a reasonable solution.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great Sequel

    Book 2 in the Katya Hijazi series

    "City of Veils" is a modern crime fiction that provides a unique insight into the minds of men highly influenced by their religious upbringing and customs. As a reader from the West, it is an intriguing and shocking glimpse into a life where men and women contribute in a totally different manner in day to day survival. The scorching sands of Saudi Arabia provide the backdrop in this fast-paced and compelling story. The exciting plotting with its many twists and turns and well-drawn characters are what make this exceptional novel what it is.

    The author has weaved seamlessly three threads together to create a sizzling thriller; it begins with the discovery of a mutilated body of a young woman on a beach. Detective Inspector Osama Ibrahim of the Jeddah Police and female officer Faiza start the investigation and are later join by Katya to interview female witnesses. Katya is very ambitious and her drive will push her too independently research the murder with the help of her trusted friend, Nayir. Another thread has Eric Walker, an American, disappearing under strange circumstances, his wife Mariam seeks help from the American consulate but is disappointed in their lack of results and eventually turns to Nayir and Katya. The author also skilfully develops the personal side of the main characters, Osama who is totally smitten by his wife is in for a rude awakening and Nayir struggles with his principals and feelings towards Katya as their attraction to each other becomes stronger..

    This is a great sequel to "Finding Nouf", time well spent between the pages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A different type of literary mystery.

    Zoe Ferraris's second novel, City of Veils, is a follow-up to her debut, Finding Nouf. A literary mystery set in Saudi Arabia, City of Veils is a different kind of suspense thriller. Among the cloaked town, hidden in the desert or behind a burqa, a killer has taken the life of a woman whose body washes onto the beach. Badly burned, beaten, and stabbed, the investigation into her murder involves more than one detective and citizen of Jeddah. Pushing the boundaries of expectations, both religious and legal, Ferraris's characters delve into the mystery of the woman's death with the hopes of bringing her killer to justice.

    My favorite thing about this novel was the fact that it was set in Saudi Arabia. An unlikely place to serve as the backdrop for a thriller, my interest in Ferraris was piqued and I looked on her website and checked out some interviews to discover she once lived in the town of Jeddah, and has first-hand experience of the area and the people who live there. It gave her writing an authentic voice, and though it's hard for me to imagine the rigid expectations women face in Saudi Arabia, I know from her background that what Ferraris writes under the guise of a fiction thriller, can and does occur outside the cover of a book.

    Aside from the location and the language placing this novel in a foreign setting, Ferraris's writing was natural and her plot was intriguing. I didn't know going into it that this was a follow-up novel, but I didn't feel disconnected, or as though I missed too much of the background story. Some of the past events were explained, so I understood why Nayir and Katya had a tortured history.

    I enjoyed the murder-mystery and suspense value in City of Veils. It's not your everyday sleuth adventure when a burning, grinding, sand-storm is rushing toward you. It's not a generic persons-go-missing and turn up okay later. People die and the villains are punished, and through it all, Ferraris's writing carries on from one perspective to the next, making each character determined and endearing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2010

    Gelati's Scoop

    This novel is an eye opener. I am the proud father of seven girls (we also have a son) and must say that the way in which women are treated in the Middle East have always stunned me. City of Veils gave me a new perspective on the whole thing. Zoe Ferraris has a unique viewpoint being both a woman and having lived in the Middle East, experiencing it first-hand. Her previous novel, Finding Nouf, was a Los Angeles Times Prize Winner.
    Here is the summary of the novel; When the body of a brutally beaten woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Detective Osama Ibrahim dreads investigating another unsolvable murder-chillingly common in a city where the veils of conservative Islam keep women as anonymous in life as the victim is in death.
    But Katya , one of the few females in the coroner's office, is determined to identify the woman and find her killer. Aided by her friend Nayir, she soon discovers that the victim was a young filmmaker named Leila, whose controversial documentaries earned her many enemies. But was it Leila's work with an incendiary Korainic scholar or a missing American man who got her killed?
    The plotline is intense, riveting and eye opening to say the least. Ferraris paints a picture and mindset that I would think most Western thinking people, men and women alike, find hard to comprehend and embrace. How do you identify a woman that is murdered that has to have her face shielded seemingly at all times? Difficult job, yes I would think. Maybe our friend Mr. Monk the obsessive/ compulsive detective can find a difference in her burka versus another woman's, but he isn't in this novel. But I digress.
    I enjoyed this novel on many levels because it really challenged me. The setting, the mindset, the language and customs are all foreign to me. The manner in which the detective had to go about his business, the treatment of the women all were a surprise to me and at times enlightening. Ferraris uses all these things to the reader's advantage as she takes us on a journey that I don't think many of us have a chance to go on in this genre. So for that my hat is off to her. City of Veils is a unique novel for the reasons listed and many more. Dare to be different, give this novel a go, add it to your Goodreads - to read- list and challenge yourself. I think that the suspense and mystery of the novel combined with grappling to understand the mindset of the culture prove to a winning combination.
    What are you reading today? Check us out and become our friend on Facebook. Go to Goodreads and become our friend there and suggest books for us to read and post on. You can also follow us on Twitter, Book Blogs, and also look for our posts on Amazon,Barnes and Nobles and the Bucks County Library System. Did you know you can shop directly on Amazon by clicking the Gelati's Store Tab on our blog? Thanks for stopping by today; we will see you tomorrow. Have a great day.
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    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 30, 2013

    I was fascinated by the culture and also enjoyed the mystery, as

    I was fascinated by the culture and also enjoyed the mystery, as I did with her first novel. I'm looking forward to reading the third one.

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  • Posted November 27, 2012

    Very Informative Culturally

    The City of Veils enunciates well the cultural milieu of the Arab woman today. WhiletThe depiction of women's rights in Arabia is well done, the characters and plot of the novel are thinly drawn.

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  • Posted September 17, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Great mystery in an interesting society

    Our Bedouin friend from Finding Nouf returns. Once again, there is a tragically murdered young woman. But the real bones of this story come through the interplay of the main characters. Nayir is pleased to rekindle his acquaintance Katya (still in forensics, hoping to move to investigation) when their paths cross over a questionable death. But Nayir's charm still remains his uncertainty about how to handle interviewing or working with women he is not related to. I was very impressed with details Ferraris used in the story that underscore a very different life than the one we live in America. Both of her novels are ones I highly recommend.

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  • Posted August 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Investigating a murder in an unusual setting

    Complicated. A good mystery in an unusual environment. Ferraris appears to have learned a great deal while in Saudi for several years. I especially liked the description of the sand storm near the Empty Quarter. But Ferraris also threads needles in describing the fine distinctions between deeply religious Muslims and fundamentalist Muslims. Her main male characters are thoughtful, questioning, fair, conflicted, and not always religious, though some are. Ferraris' descriptions of their logic and thinking processes are intelligent and nuanced. It was an interesting and enlightening mystery for me, whose lack of experience in Middle Eastern culture sometimes leaves me frustrated, suspicious, and unclear about people's motives. Considering traditional Muslim culture is just about as far from modern American culture as it is possible to be, bridging some of the misunderstandings that can occur and showing the modesty and sincerity and goodness of intention that Muslim society treasures, Ferraris actually does a service at the same time as she spins the mystery.
    The form of the mystery itself appears to be the familiar model of lead investigator (male) and a sidekick (female). Though there were times when it seemed positively ludicrous that a woman could be on a forensic team in Saudi considering the contraints, just the effort of imagining it made it interesting. And then we are forced to speculate how could it be otherwise? I had a look at the earlier book in the series, called Finding Nouf and I must admit I found it as frustrating and annoying as beginning City of Veils. Something about the contraints people operate under in the Middle East seem artificial and absurd. I find myself getting impatient. In the end, however, whatever I didn't like about City of Veils was outweighed by what I learned and what I liked. As a Western woman, it is so easy to slam conservative Muslim men as neanderthal throwbacks. But understanding aids comprehension and Ferraris makes some attempt to show Muslim men as reasonable, both those that are religious and those that are not. It is no mean feat and she deserves kudos.

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  • Posted August 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Good Book

    I started reading this book while on my way to Saudi Arabia, so I was in for a shock when I didnt get pulled into the "Unaccompained Women" area. I think Nayir and Katya should have gotten together sooner. You knew it was going to happen, then when it didn't happen before the desert scene, you knew it was going to happen at the end. I think she should have been offered a job as detective.
    I thought it was Miriam that was killed at first, then when Eric went missing, I knew they could be dating. I think that might have made a little back story.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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