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The Locust and the Bird


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The Locust and the Bird is a bestseller in the Lebanon

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 Cairo and in Beirut, then later lived in the Arabian Gulf, before moving to London. She is the author of the collection I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops and her novels include 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.


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.

'It is an extraordinarily brave act for a writer to undertake to inhabit, fully and sympathetically, the life her mother lived before she was born, particularly when her mother was no jewel of wifely virtue' J.M. Coetzee 'This tender memoir...courageously addresses both the themes of geographical separation and the jagged motifs of mother-daughter conflict' Independent 'A powerful book on the dangers of romantic love in mid-twentieth century Arab society' Guardian 'This is a book that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve, offering an insight into an unfamiliar culture and a cinematic love story' The Times

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.

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