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 and forces him to reconcile his desire for female companionship within the parameters imposed by his beliefs.
My thoughts: This was a very well written, engaging, mystery story. It was fast-paced and kept me turning the pages. When picking up the book, I had no idea what to expect. I was surprised to learn about the plot and was especially surprised to learn solving a girl's murder could mean a lot to some people even in a culture where women are not as important.
By having only the stereotypical views of Middle Eastern culture, especially the treatment of women, this book was very rewarding. It opened my eyes up to a different culture and helped me understand how they act and feel. Though women are isolated, cannot do much in society, and are submissive, women are seen as something precious. I was completely surprised to learn that many men avert their gazes if a woman's face in uncovered. These men act as if they are not worthy to see these women's faces. Also, it was great to learn that women are not always beaten up if they accidentally show their face in public. Only extremists do such awful acts.
I also was very interested to learn how religion rule these people's lives. Their lives are centered around Allah and they spend their days according to their prayer schedules. I found it very fascinating how many times they pray and the process how men and women pray. I can't imagine having to constantly worry about how my actions and thoughts could be sinful. If they are, to be constantly asking Allah for forgiveness. I find myself respecting Muslim beliefs and customs more after reading this book.
I really enjoyed reading the two main characters, Nayir and Katya. Nayir is a very traditional man who follows his beliefs but does not force them down on anyone. I found it very cute how he admires women and how much he wants to be around them just for companionship. It's adorable how he acts around them, especially when the women reveal a little bit more than just their eyes. Katya is more of a modern girl but still follows the Muslim customs. She likes to stretch the boundaries by constantly seeing how much she could get away with. She has a job, she has chosen who she wants to marry, leaves her burqa off many times, and likes to visit places that are more Americanized. I think these two characters very well balanced each other.
The mystery of this book was done well. The author gives you many clues as to what really happened to Nouf but not enough that you can easily guess who the killer was. Everyone connected to Nouf appeared to be a suspect. When the truth started to unfold at the end, it completely caught me off guard.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book. I liked learning about a new culture and I liked reading a good mystery. I give this book:
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