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The Locust and the Bird
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About the Author

Hanan al-Shaykh is one of the contemporary Arab world's most acclaimed writers. She was born in Lebanon and brought up in Beirut, before going to Cairo to receive her education. She was a successful journalist in Beirut, then later lived in the Arabian Gulf, before moving to London. A novelist and a playwright, al-Shaykh is the author of the collection I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops, and the novels The Story of Zahra, Women of Sand and Myrrh, Beirut Blues, and, most recently, Only in London, which was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. She lives in London.

Reviews

Al-Shaykh, a Lebanese journalist and author of six novels (including Story of Zahra), finally succumbs to her illiterate mother Kamila's haranguing to write her story. The result falls somewhere between memoir and biography as she recreates and undoubtedly takes literary license with her mother's history. Kamila and her brother grow up in poverty, estranged from their father, until their mother moves them to Beirut to live with their older siblings from her first marriage in the 1930s. Soon, one of their sisters dies of rabies and the family marries 14-year-old Kamila unwillingly to the widower, Abu-Hussein, 18 years her elder. Kamila torments her husband to show her displeasure, but bears him two children by the age of 17. Her starry-eyed love of the cinema is all that assuages her unhappiness but also fuels her affair with a man her own age, Muhammed. After the 10-year affair has shamed both their families, she is granted a divorce from Abu-Hussein but must leave her two daughters behind, including the author, Hanan. Kamila has five more children with Muhammed. Though at times Kamila's life feels overly condensed, the author's journalistic talent reveals itself in her ability to get past her own abandonment to paint Kamila as a vivid, willful girl who lived as though she were the heroine of a great film. (Aug.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Al-Shaykh (The Story of Zahra) turns to her own family for inspiration in this memoir set in 1930s Beirut. The author's mother, Kamila, is a spirited 13-year-old when forced into marriage with her much older brother-in-law. The new bride has already fallen in love with the good-looking Muhammad, and her unhappy marriage is further complicated when her romance with Muhammad persists in spite of her husband and two daughters (the youngest of which is the author). Kamila eventually obtains a divorce and moves away from her two daughters to begin a new family with her lover. Verdict The narrative, told in Kamila's voice, which unfolds as an apologia to the author for leaving her as a child, is lively and engaging, but it loses momentum after Muhammad and Kamila are married; with no real obstacles to their happiness, the story peters out. Worth considering for memoir fanatics and readers interested in the Middle East. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/09.]-Anne Garner, NYPL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"A tale of female independence. . . . Deeply reflective and moving."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"The Locust and the Bird conquers the distance between mother and daughter, revealing the tragedies that can ensue when cultural machismo forces brave women into impossible choices."
--Jayne Anne Phillips, More "A vital [work] about the lives of Arabic families. . . . [It] has a warmth that crosses cultures and feels like a pure, shining blast of sun. . . . Al-Shaykh's fictionalized account of her mother's life burns with truth. . . . Forgiveness--not anger--saturates this book like a perfume; every character is desperately, vulnerably human. Al-Shaykh's triumph is that she retrieves her mother's wisdom--a wondrous lesson for grown daughters everywhere."
--Los Angeles Times "[A] poignant family history. . . . Through telling her mother's story, [Al-Shaykh] learns to appreciate the sacrifices demanded of so many Arab women in their bid for freedom."
--The New Yorker "It is an extraordinarily brave act for a writer to undertake to inhabit, fully and sympathetically, the life her mother lived."
--J.M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize-winning author of Disgrace "What a Woman!!! What a storyteller!!! . . . I felt extremely lucky to spend time with someone so intelligent, full of humor and love."
--Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis "A richly tragic and rivetingly original tale. . . . Al-Shaykh's suspenseful, intimate biography throbs with the sense of wonder an Old World survivor experiences when colliding with the new. This voluptuous, deft dissection of a love that transcends borders, class and generations is a delight."
--Newark Star-Ledger "Courageously addresses both the themes of geographical separation and the jagged motifs of mother-daughter conflict. . . . I have never read a memoir which so clearly demonstrates art's power to help us survive."
--The Independent (London) "Al-Shaykh is one of the most courageous writers of the Arab world. The story of her irrepressible mother, might help explain the origins of Hanan Al-Shaykh's singular ability to trailblaze."
--Rabih Alameddine, author of The Hakawati "Extraordinary. . . . Hanan adeptly and generously captures the thoughts and concerns of a young woman growing up, the hard way, in Lebanon half a century ago."
--Time Out (London) "Frank and uncompromising. . . . Kamila's trials are the trials of all women who have sought to be free; her choices some of the toughest yet made in the name of independence."
--The Times (London) "A riveting, deeply compelling character study that combines real dramatic tension with historical and political relevance. Charming, egotistical, funny, vain, spell-binding, al-Shaykh's mother defies religion, family, and tradition to create a life on her own terms. A fabulously addictive read."
--Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Crescent "A powerful book on the dangers of romantic love in mid-20th century Arab society."
--The Guardian (London) "Astonishing. . . . Spectacular. . . . [The Locust and the Bird] is Hanan al-Shaykh's masterpiece. Kamila is Hanan's most extraordinary character."
--Charles R. Larson, The Jakarta Post "An adventure tale, a confession, a tragic romance. . . . The book is that rarity--a memoir told in the round but through one set of eyes, so that we understand, increasingly, everyone's motives, their saving graces, while ever more deeply seeing the flawed yet magical world through the sensibility of its subject."
--The Scotsman

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