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12 Jan, 2017

Kingdom of Strangers

/ posted in: Reading Kingdom of Strangers Kingdom of Strangers on June 5th 2012
Pages: 375
Series: Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #3
Genres: Mystery & Detective
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Saudi Arabia
Goodreads

“A secret grave in the desert is unearthed revealing the mutilated bodies of nineteen women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade.
However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing, since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women on the force. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own.”


This is the third book in this wonderful mystery series that features a woman trying to advance in the man’s world of Saudi Arabia.  Katya is officially a forensics tech.  She wants to be a detective but that is not allowed.  There is push back now about even allowing women to work in the police department at all.  Some people only want women to do things men absolutely can’t like search female suspects and handle female corpses.

Katya has set out to make herself necessary.  Now a gravesite with nineteen women has been found and she wants to help with the case.  When an expert on serial killers is brought in to help with the case and she turns out to be female, Katya is excited but worried about the hostility this brings up in her male coworkers.

She is also worried about her secret getting out.  Only married women are allowed to work for the police.  She isn’t married but has been pretending that she is.  Now she is actually getting married and her father wants to invite everyone.  She is also having concerns about the marriage.  Nayir, her fiance who she met in the first book, is much more conservative than she is.  She can tell that he is uneasy about her working with men.  Will he try to control her once they marry even if he claims that he won’t now?

The author lived in Saudi Arabia and that shows in the small details of her writing.  The story seems to have a strong sense of place in Jeddah.  There are many issues brought up in this book.

The mistreatment of Asian women

Many Asian women are brought to Saudi Arabia to work as maids.  Abuse is rampant.  The women are charged fees to get jobs.  They can’t always pay back the fees and end up in virtual slavery.  Some are repeatedly raped.  The mystery in this book focuses on the difficulty of solving crimes involving these women because so many run away from the abuse and are not reported missing.

Morality as a weapon

Enforcement of morality is a theme in several parts of this book.  The investigation is dragging on because the head coroner won’t let men handle the bodies of the murdered women to preserve their modesty in death.  But, there aren’t enough women to process the bodies quickly because they don’t like to hire women.

Old case files have the pictures of female victims removed because of modesty making it hard to compare them to new cases.

A missing woman can’t be reported missing because the only person who knows that she is gone is her married lover.  If it is found out that they were together, she will be charged with prostitution and he will be charged with adultery.

devils

Even if you aren’t a big mystery fan, I’d recommend this series for the details of life in modern day Saudi Arabia.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in the Middle East
19 Oct, 2015

Finding Nouf: a mystery set in Saudi Arabia

/ posted in: Reading Finding Nouf:  a mystery set in Saudi Arabia Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
on 2009-05
Pages: 305
Series: Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #1
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Fast-paced and utterly transporting, "Finding Nouf" is a riveting literary mystery and an unprecedented window into the lives of men and women in Saudi Arabia.
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.

Goodreads

When a 16 year old girl from a wealthy Saudi family goes missing along with a truck and her camel, her family assumes that she ran into the desert.  They hire their desert guide Nayir Sharqi to lead the search team.  When she is found, the official story of her death and recovery don’t make sense to him.  Then a family member asks him to investigate to find out what really happened.

The mystery of what happened to Nouf wasn’t the point of this book for me.  Nayir is a very devout Palestinian man living in Saudi Arabia.  He was raised by his unmarried uncle.  He has almost no contact with women at all.  He doesn’t understand them and this society doesn’t allow him to meet them.  He starts to realize the depth of his ignorance when trying to understand the motivation of Nouf.  He is also uncomfortable to be working with Katya, a woman in the pathology lab and the fiance of his contact in the Shrawi family.

I found the explanations of the gender conflict in Saudi Arabia to be the most interesting parts of the book. 

Nayir is talking to Muhammad, Nouf’s paid escort for when she wanted to leave the family compound without one of her brothers.  He introduced his wife, Hend.

“Nayir sipped his tea and marveled at the casual way that Muhammad had spoken of his wife.  There had been no need to explain who she was, and telling Nayir her name was something else entirely.  It put Muhammad squarely in the category of young infidel wannabe.  Gone were the days of calling one’s wife “the mother of Muhammad Junior”; today women had first names, last names, jobs and whatnot.  He wondered how many men had known Nouf’s name.”


Later there is this sign at the zoo.

CHILDREN MAY BE ACCOMPANIED BY EITHER THEIR MOTHER OR FATHER BUT NOT BOTH PARENTS.  BOYS OVER THE AGE OF 10 ARE CONSIDERED ADULTS.


Even the women have been conditioned to think this is normal.  In this passage Katya is thinking about her fiance and his attitude towards her.

“With dismay, she came upon a painful truth:  that a modern, enlightened man like Othman, the sort of man who could actually meet a woman in public and not think she was a whore, might not have enough within him to sustain a passionate relationship.”

 

I was reading this book on vacation at the pool when a Muslim family came in.  The mother and teenage daughter were wearing hijabs and long sleeved, long pant bathing suits.  The adult male was wearing swimming trunks and showing off his tattoos.  The double standard was jarring especially while reading about so many examples of women being treated as lesser beings in this book. If women choose to dress modestly because they believe it is part of the tenets of their religion, fine. But if they are told that they have to because they are responsible for hiding themselves to protect men from having to control their thoughts, then that is not ok.

While being forced to work with and consider the lives of women over the course of the investigation, Nayir starts to reconsider his ideas of proper etiquette.  There are two more books in the series and I am interested in reading them to see how this develops.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

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