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City of Veils ()

City of Veils is, on the one hand, a police procedural set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The mystery that drives the novel concerns the brutal murder and post-mortem disfiguration of a young woman filmmaker and the related disappearance of her American lover? husband? friend?, Eric Walker. But while there is a conventional enough detective on the case, Osama Ibrahim, the investigation is aided by Walker's American wife, Miriam, by Katya, a rare female in the coroner's office, and by her friend, Nayir, a Bedouin desert guide. Ms Ferraris -- who was herself married to a Saudi and lived the veiled and secluded life of an Arab wife -- uses her characters and the story to reveal how strict gender segregation and harsh rules limiting interaction between the sexes impacts the Saudi people. Osama imagines himself a modern man, but struggles to deal with his wife's desire for a career over a large family. Miriam is afraid of losing her husband to the allure of Arab life, but hates being trapped behind a burqa. Katya has to pretend to be married just to be eligible for her job. And Nayir is traditional enough to be morally tortured when he has time alone with Katya, but also needs to find a wife somehow and realizes he want Katya to be that woman.

Ms Ferraris does an admirable job of showing us how the fundamentalist regulation of Arab life affects the characters' lives, without bludgeoning over the head with an anti-Muslim message. Interestingly, given that her marriage was not a happy one, she is just as sympathetic to the men of Saudi Arabia as the women. We cannot, of course, know how accurately she captures the popular mood of that closed society, but if she has at all, then it is hard to see how the Sa'uds can long defend their traditions against the pressures of modernity and the desire of the young, in particular, to interact more freely with the opposite sex. These political/cultural themes make the novel fascinating.

The author also uses her setting to one further good effect. Typically at the end of a perfectly good murder mystery you get some melodramatic denouement tacked on, the corny chase scene and/or confrontation with the killer, who starts monologuing (which The Incredibles pokes fun at). The dramatic ending to this book--though there is some further exposition afterward--is genuinely exciting and unique. It's the icing on a very tasty cake.


Grade: (A)


Zoë Ferraris Links:

    -AUTHOR BLOG: Pilgrimage
    -ESSAY: Living With Music: A Playlist (Zoe Ferraris, 8/04/10, NY Times: Papercuts)
    -ESSAY: What's Islam About? (Zoe Ferraris, 8/06/10, BeliefNet)
    -ESSAY: The Big Idea (Zoe Ferraris, Whatever)
    -INTERVIEW: Unveiling Islam Today: PW Talks with Zoe Ferraris (Mitzi Brunsdale, Jun 28, 2010, Publishers Weekly)
    -PROFILE: Envisioning herself as a Saudi man (Swati Pandey, 8/05/08, LA Times)
    -INTERVIEW: A conversation with Zoe Ferraris: The American mystery writer who's just published her second thriller set in contemporary Saudi Arabia (Ha'aretz, 8/12/10)
    -INTERVIEW: Zoë Ferraris answers questions about her first novel, Finding Nouf, the first in an amateur detective series set in Saudi Arabia (BookBrowse)
    -INTERVIEW: Zoe Ferraris, author, City of Veils (Amy Steele, Entertainment Realm)
    -INTERVIEW: Zoe Ferraris Q&A (Giovanni Gelati, August 9, 2010, Crime Space)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Zoe Ferraris (Talkback with C. E. Moore)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris (Malena Watrous, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Joan Smith, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Laura Wilson, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Nina Sankovitch, Huffington Post)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Barbara Dickinson,
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Clare Kennedy, NZ Herald Sun)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Entertainment Realm)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Murder by Type)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Jill I. Shtulman, Mostly Fiction)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Jill Noel Shreve, New World Review)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (J Curran, Mystery Site)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Sarah Gumbley, Crime Watch)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Gemma England, Media Culture)
    -REVIEW: of City of Veils (Ellen Wernecke, EdgeBoston)
    -REVIEW: of The Night of the Mi'raj by Zoe Ferraris (Joan Smith, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris (Sarah Weinman, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (Susan Fornoff, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (Allyssa Lee, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (Sarah Rachel Egelman, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (MARK ATHITAKIS, Minneapolis Star Tribune )
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (Douglas Perry, The Oregonian )
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (Emma Hagestadt, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (Edmund Gordon, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (SemiColon)
    -REVIEW: of Finding Nouf (Miochael Lukas, SF Chronicle)

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