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Pillars of Salt
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The Jordanian-born Faqir (Nisanit), who writes in English, brings both the declamatory style and the intricate syntax of traditional Arabic storytelling to a novel of anti-traditional feminist themes. There are three narratives. The first is told by an itinerant male Storyteller, who has a monkey and a profane voice: "Men say Allah turned my friend the man, Maymoon, into a monkey when he wiped his ass with a piece of bread." This Storyteller spins tales that contradict those of the primary narrator, Maha, a peasant woman, who tells both her own tale and that of Um Saad, a more sophisticated woman from Amman. The two women are roommates in a mental hospital around the time of the British Mandate. Um Saad is a heartbroken mother of eight whose husband has replaced her with "the woman in green who licked the side of her mouth like a snake." It's sad, but it doesn't have half the drama of Maha's story, which concerns her love for her husband, now dead, whose "firm thighs told the story of endless days of riding strong Arab horses." Basically, the Um Saad and Storyteller chapters get in the way of the real drama: What's going to happen to Maha next? Will her husband rise from the dead? Will her brother punch her in the head (again)? Will she be forced to marry old Sheikh Talib? The novel's mix of Arabian Nights fabulism and social concern‘regarding the repression of Arab women‘is sometimes awkward. But Faqir is a skilled writer striving for an ambitious synthesis of Arabic and English style, Islamic and Western sensibility. She doesn't fully succeed, but it's entertaining to watch her try. (May)

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