Pillars of Salt

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Editorial Reviews

Sunday Times (London)
This is a powerful and distinctive piece of writing, melding the recent history of the country with the continuing personal and political oppression of Arab women.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Jordanian-born Faqir (Nisanit), who writes in English, brings both the declamatory style and the intricate syntax of traditional Arabic storytelling to a novel of anti-traditional feminist themes. There are three narratives. The first is told by an itinerant male Storyteller, who has a monkey and a profane voice: "Men say Allah turned my friend the man, Maymoon, into a monkey when he wiped his ass with a piece of bread." This Storyteller spins tales that contradict those of the primary narrator, Maha, a peasant woman, who tells both her own tale and that of Um Saad, a more sophisticated woman from Amman. The two women are roommates in a mental hospital around the time of the British Mandate. Um Saad is a heartbroken mother of eight whose husband has replaced her with "the woman in green who licked the side of her mouth like a snake." It's sad, but it doesn't have half the drama of Maha's story, which concerns her love for her husband, now dead, whose "firm thighs told the story of endless days of riding strong Arab horses." Basically, the Um Saad and Storyteller chapters get in the way of the real drama: What's going to happen to Maha next? Will her husband rise from the dead? Will her brother punch her in the head (again)? Will she be forced to marry old Sheikh Talib? The novel's mix of Arabian Nights fabulism and social concernregarding the repression of Arab womenis sometimes awkward. But Faqir is a skilled writer striving for an ambitious synthesis of Arabic and English style, Islamic and Western sensibility. She doesn't fully succeed, but it's entertaining to watch her try. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Pillars Of Salt ( paper May 9, 1997; 256 pp.; 1-56656-220-1; paper 1-56656-253-8): This skillfully constructed novel, the second from an acclaimed Jordanian writer, portrays the vulnerability of women in an embattled traditional culture through the stories exchanged by two patients in a mental hospital. One has obediently surrendered to her husband's choice of a younger wife, the other has seen her marriage fall victim to political violence. The histories of Maha and Um Saad, which typify Jordanian experience during the British Mandate that lasted through much of the 1940s, are framed and echoed by the comments of "The Storyteller," who relates them to us in a dazzling and often very moving display of narrative art.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566562539
  • Publisher: Interlink Publishing Group, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Series: Emerging Voices Series
  • Pages: 230
  • Sales rank: 708,879
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    This book is ¿East of Eden¿ meets ¿Old Man and the Sea,¿ with ¿Jane Eyre¿ playing the lead. It has all of the merits of classic literature with none of the traditional arrogance. The English language is used in a new way that has rarely been seen before. The Arab women in the novel appear to be oppressed, but they are also powerful beyond measure.
    Faqir crafts a masterful narrative using, seemingly, simple methods. She does what many other authors do by using symbolism and metaphor; however, she goes beyond the usual techniques to create a deeper dimension in the novel. She is able to do this because she is not as inundated in the culture of ¿English¿ as other writers. She does not rely on language to be the dominant vehicle of expression, in fact, if the reader gets too caught up in the language it detracts from the development of deeper meanings in the plot. Faqir is unique in this way because the reader has to walk a figurative tightrope by not focusing on the words too much and also paying significant attention to the language of the text. If there is too little attention paid to the word-by-word strategy, then the reader is unable to recognize Faqir for her complex and impressive linguistic performance. If there is too much attention paid to each word in the novel then certain readers will fail to recognize Faqir¿s larger message. The author does not give her audience the luxury of easy reading, but the book is impossible to put down after reading the first few pages.
    It is easy for a reader to become hypnotized by the main character, whether through her own voice or the voices of those around her. The main character is a walking contradiction ¿ as are most of the characters in the novel. She is uneducated, eloquent, wise, ironic, happy, and sad. Faqir¿s characters are all distinctly unique, especially the two narrators who bring an authority to the text that is different from any other. The male narrator is stereotypical, foolish, brilliant, foreign, arrogant, and self-conscious. Faqir paints her characters with countless layers, and yet, the reader does not notice she is doing it at all. She pulls her audience into a fully formed world of sorrow, happiness, war, abuse, beauty, and significance, however, depending on which member of the audience it is, the world may be all of those things for very different reasons.
    Fadia Faqir portrays a wonderfully realistic world in her novel. The reader can almost feel the air between the pages and hear the sound of the Dead Sea. However, it is important for all readers to realize that this is a fictional account of fictional people. It is not an ethnographic study of the Bedouin people, or any other person in the country of Jordan. It is all too often that English readers want a book to tell them how women live in other countries and Faqir does not give them that. She mixes universal human emotions with such detail and grace that the reader cannot believe that this world belongs to anyone except the characters living in it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2001


    I don't care where you are from, whether you are male,female, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Arabic, Swedish, Mongolian, you have got to read this book. It is a story about two women from different worlds who meet in an asylum in Jordan and strike up a peculiar friendship and relate their life stories and how they ended up in the asylum. The more you learn about them the more you become sucked into the story. It has everything from love, deception, family feuds, jealousy, death, war, passion, you name it , it's in there. I HIGHLY recommend reading this book if you are the type of person who likes epics and who enjoys really getting involved in teh storyline. It is beautifully written and you will just get so carried away with it you will not be able to put it down. ENJOY!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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