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The Sand Fish: A Novel from Dubai Paperback – 20 Oct 2009
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“Unadorned, poetic language, filled with well-integrated cultural detail. . . . [A] terrific choice for bookclub discussions. . . . This may find appeal with fans of The Kite Runner.” (Booklist)
“Gargash weaves an enticing tale of a fiery, independent woman. . . . Intimate, well-paced prose. . . . An exciting, passion-filled read that illuminates an intriguing culture through the eyes and experience of a fiesty heroine.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A young woman’s story opens a window into Dubai on the verge of modernity. . . . Seaside and desert locales, along with the transitional time period, give a fresh twist to this standard tradition-versus-modernity plotline. . . . Her setting is original.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Gargash’s poignant plot will appeal to diehard fans of world literature.” (Library Journal)
From the Back Cover
A fascinating window into a different culture—and an inspiring and unforgettable universal story of strength and self-reliance—from an extraordinarily wise and lyrical new literary voice
Coming of age in the 1950s, seventeen-year-old Noora is unlike other women of the sun-battered mountains at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Though she shares their poverty and, like them, bears life's hardships without complaint, she is also fiery and independent. Following the death of her mother and her father's descent into dazed madness, Noora flees the threat of an arranged marriage, only to be driven back to her unwanted fate by disappointment and heartbreak. As the third wife to a rich, much older man, Noora struggles to adjust to her new home by the sea, thinking of herself as a sand fish—the desert lizard she observed in the mountains, which, when stuck in the wrong place and desperate to escape, smashed itself again and again into unyielding rocks. But then a light is shone into her miserable darkness, resulting in an unexpected passion, a shocking indiscretion, and a secret that could jeopardize Noora's life.See all Product description
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The book starts in the remote mountains of Ras al Kaimah / Musandam (I think), where two matchmakers arrive to tutor Noora in the art of becoming a wife and pleasing her husband. With this, her wild childhood, running free in the mountains, comes to an abrupt end. She is to be the third wife of a much older man; her main responsibility - to produce a baby.
She is not without temptation from younger men, however, and sails close to the wind on several occasions.
There is some wonderful imagery - a water filled cave hidden in the depths of arid mountains is one example that comes to mind. In addition there was a vivid description of the souk as Noora lands on the shores of Sharjah (??).
The language is also interesting; although extremely readable, there are give-away phrases of the author's background:
".....news crept into Moza's home on whispering tongues".
".....she clutched the bedpost and became one with the bursting clouds".
The position of women is well illustrated, particularly in relation to multiple marriages. The man is all-powerful and the wives have to get along as best they can.
Pearl diving is mentioned too, plus the ensuing health problems of fading eyesight and poor lungs.
We discussed this book at a book group and I'll agree that it's not without its flaws, but for me the reading experience was well worth the 5* that I have given.
More please Ms Gargash.
Reading a new author is always a risk. Will the writing seem artificial, contrived? Will the cracks start showing on the artifice of someone writing what they hope the reader will like? Or will it seem real? That's the goal of every novelist, and Maha succeeds immediately. I felt it was real from the first chapters, and never believed I was in someone's fantasy.
A very happy read, and such a natural author considering English is not her native language. From her interesting notes at the end of her novel, the author threw out her initial story which focused on pearl diving and reconstructed her story from the new perspective of a young bride. The themes of feeling free, then feeling trapped, then trapped by concepts of the mind, are universal. I hope other readers discover this gift of a book.