Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris
Nayir, a devout Muslim of Palestinian descent, has created a life for himself in Saudi Arabia as a desert guide. Although he longs for the marriage that alludes him because he is an orphan with no one with whom to negotiate such a contract, he takes pride in the honorable life he leads and enjoys the home he has created for himself on his house boat. Over time, he has created a good relationship with the prominent and powerful Shrawi family due to his faithful service to them. When Nouf, one of their daughters turns up missing and feared lost in the desert, he is proud that he is asked to help locate her. When she is ultimately found dead, her brother Othman asks him as a special favor to look into her death, Nayir takes his role seriously. What he discovers is that investigating Nouf’s death requires that he questions who he is, who his friends are, his faith, and the role of women in the home and in society.
While Saudi Arabia is a world away from the United States, there are some things that are universal – when a suspicious murder takes place in a powerful family, the roadblocks are numerous. You can never be sure if someone is helping you are purposefully leading you down the wrong path. What makes his investigation even more trying for his is that Nayir is forced to come face to face with much that finds immoral and debase in modern society. When he goes upon Othman’s request to bring Nouf’s body home for burial, he faints at the sight of her naked body. He takes his faith seriously and cannot deal with the feelings he has seeing a woman like that, even though she’s dead. He also has great difficulty coming to terms with the one person equally determined to bring Nouf’s killer to justice – Katya. She is Othman’s fiance and she is the embodiment of a modern Muslim woman. She works outside of the home in the coroner’s office and is outspoken and aggressive. As they get closer to uncovering the truth about Nouf’s life and death, Nayir worries about how much his investigation will cost him.
Finding Nouf, Zoë Ferraris’ first novel, is compelling both as a murder mystery and as an examination of modern MIddle Eastern society. Through Nayir eyes, I feel I got an honest understanding of the origins and intentions behind Muslim customs. His shame and his fear of change were real. I shared his anxiety as his involvement with Katya grew and called his friendship with Othman into question as well as his own political safety. While he is like a chameleon going between the desert and the water, he has a great deal of difficulty handling social change and coming face to face with cultural hypocrisy. Nayir is the most genuine and honest character I’ve met this year. I whole-heartedly recommend this novel.
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