Sunday, October 24, 2010

Page 43: Finding Nouf

I'm doing this in reverse.  I have already read and blogged City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris which is her second book.  Finding Nouf was her first.  In Finding Nouf we are introduced to two of the characters who also appear in City of Veils.  Nayir, the desert guide who is Palestinian, but often mistaken for a Bedouin because of his knowledge of the desert, and Katya who works in the medical examiners office.  They both become involved in the investigation of the death of Nouf, a young girl who disappears from her family home.

The story begins with Nayir leading a team in the desert searching for Nouf.  All they know is that a pickup truck is missing from her family compound as well as one of the camels from the stable.  Nouf's brother Othman asks Nayir to find out what happened to his sister.  The search is fruitless at first, but eventually Nouf's body is found in the desert and taken to the medical examiners office.  The surprising result is that the cause of death appears to be from drowning.  The clues eventually lead Nayir to believe she was caught in a sudden rainstorm that filled the wadi she was in, and the force of the water knocked her off her feet and carried her along causing her death.  This is just the beginning of the story.

Again, the author takes us inside Saudi society and family life.  Nayir is a traditional man who tries not to look at a woman's face unless circumstances require him.  When he first meets Katya in the medical examiners office he looks everywhere except at her.  His religious beliefs are part of who he is, and become part of the story.  Katya is trying to break free of the traditional repression of women, and has gone to work.  Even though women do work, many of them stay home and lead very sheltered lives.

Nayir eventually overcomes his reluctance to work with Katya.  He discovers she is engaged to his friend Othman, but that does not present an obstacle since Othman encourages him to continue the investigation even if it means he will be working with Katya.  The evidence leads them to some startling facts that will change both of them by the end of the story.

Finding Nouf won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; pretty good for a first novel.  If you liked City of Veils, you will find this book to be very similar in providing a fascinating look inside Saudi society.  This is the back story of how Nayir and Katya first met and worked together.  If you have not read either book yet, I would suggest reading Finding Nouf first and then City of Veils.  Both novels stand alone and may be read in any order, but it makes sense to me to read them in order, and not in reverse like I did.

Here are a couple of reviews for you:

"Engrossing . . . yanks the veil off Saudi Arabian culture while unraveling a compelling murder mystery."
"A literary detective novel that balances the pleasures of plot with finely milled prose."
  --San Francisco Chronicle
Ferraris stakes her own claim on the world map, opening Saudi Arabia up for mystery fans to reveal the true minds and hearts of its denizens."
  --Los Angeles Times

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