Finding Nouf (Review)

August 8, 2011

Book cover for "Finding Nouf" by Zoe Ferraris.Title: Finding Nouf

Author: Zoë Ferraris (website, twitter)

Narrator: Pete Bradbury

Publication Year: 2008

Pages: 320 (audio length: 11 hours 11 minutes)

Genre: Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir al-Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. But when the coroner’s office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened.

He quickly realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner’s office who is bold enough to bare her face and to work in public. Their partnership challenges Nayir, as he confronts his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs. Fast-paced and utterly transporting, Finding Nouf is a riveting literary mystery that offers an unprecedented window into Saudi Arabia and the lives of men and women there.

I was a bit worried about this book, even while I was looking forward to reading it. It wasn’t really clear how the relationship between men and women (and the “rules” relating to Islam and women, or more accurately, Saudi society and women) would be portrayed. It could have gone either way, yanno?

Thankfully, Ferraris did a really good job of depicting traditional Saudi Arabian societal values (including conservative Islam) without going over the top into the rhetoric-filled stereotypical renderings that happen a lot of the time. Yes, there were definitely some parts that made me cringe – usually when related to Nayir’s character, particularly early on in the novel before he realized that he would have to be a little bit more flexible with his ideas of modesty and proper behaviour. But as I kept reading, these parts just seemed to fit; they were more about Nayir’s personal beliefs, and they counter-balanced the commentary on the realities of the situation that were provided by Katya’s character.

Along those lines, it was the characters more than anything that made Finding Nouf an enjoyable read for me. They were just so rich and wonderful, without any two really being alike, and – partly because the setting is so different from most novels I read – they didn’t feel clichéd or like I had read about them before in another book. It was the same thing with the overall plot: I don’t usually read many mystery stories, but I enjoyed this one. There were a few bits that were a bit predictable, but honestly, they didn’t take away from the reading experience at all.

Having said all of this, there were a couple things that did take away from my experience, but I’m not sure that they’d bother everyone. The first was a statement that was made about one of the secondary (tertiary?) characters in the book, a cousin who is living with Nouf’s family after travelling there to do her pilgrimage (hajj). It’s stated that she’s been living in the house since she arrived to do her hajj a year earlier, and that’s she done hajj “dozens of times” since then. Now, that might not be something that a non-Muslim would pick up on, but it’s definitely something that brought me out of the story for a minute. It’s only considered “hajj” when the pilgrimage is performed during the specific time frame of a few days a year. Pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca any other time in the year is referred to as “umrah“. So it was largely a technical error, but one just noticeable enough for someone who’s “in the know” to be startled.

The other thing that took away slightly from my experience had more to do with the narration than the actual text, and might be something that’s only specific to me. For most of the audiobook, Bradbury’s narration was fantastic – the pronunciation of Arabic names and places was fantastic, and his voice changed subtly depending on which character was speaking. There was one spot, though, where there was a statement about something not being Nayir’s forte, as in not being his strong point. I’m not sure how it was spelled in the book, but I’m used to seeing the word as “forté” (and pronounced as such). Instead, the pronunciation in the audiobook sounded like “fort”, and kind of jolted me out of my listening reverie. According to Wikipedia, the word forte comes

from the French fort for “strength”, pronounced /?f?rt/ but now commonly also /?f?rte?/ in English;[1] a person’s strong point [1] (“Preparing gourmet cuisine is his forte”). The latter pronunciation is likely due to an historical confusion with the doublet below (musical term from the Italian). In light of this, some regard this pronunciation as incorrect.

Regardless, it just sounds wrong to me! I know this is just a triviality, but it was something that I remembered, so I thought I’d mention it for laughs.

In the end, though, I rather enjoyed Finding Nouf, both as a story in general and as an audiobook. I think this series would be a great read for any of you in either format as well, particularly if you like mysteries or family dramas. Definitely find yourself a copy!

Rating:


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

3 Comments

  • Helen Murdoch August 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

    I read this book a few months ago and quite enjoyed it. I was glad that they portrayed various versions of people living in Saudi Arabia and as Muslims, showing that not everyone is the same. I thought the mystery was quite good as well. I’ve got the sequel on my TBR shelf and will try to get to it by the end of this year

  • Amy August 8, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    Sounds like quite the interesting book. Randomly weird error re hajj though. I mean, I dunno, seems like a stupid mistake? One that should have been caught by multiple people? Glad you liked it though.

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