Thursday, August 5, 2010

City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris

City of Veils: A Novel (Nayir al-Sharqi, #2)

Complicated. A good mystery in an unusual environment. Ferraris appears to have learned a great deal while in Saudi for several years. I especially liked the description of the sand storm near the Empty Quarter. But Ferraris also threads needles in describing the fine distinctions between deeply religious Muslims and fundamentalist Muslims. Her main male characters are thoughtful, questioning, fair, conflicted, and not always religious, though some are. Ferraris' descriptions of their logic and thinking processes are intelligent and nuanced. It was an interesting and enlightening mystery for me, whose lack of experience in Middle Eastern culture sometimes leaves me frustrated, suspicious, and unclear about people's motives. Considering traditional Muslim culture is just about as far from modern American culture as it is possible to be, bridging some of the misunderstandings that can occur and showing the modesty and sincerity and goodness of intention that Muslim society treasures, Ferraris actually does a service at the same time as she spins the mystery.

The form of the mystery itself appears to be the familiar model of lead investigator (male) and a sidekick (female). Though there were times when it seemed positively ludicrous that a woman could be on a forensic team in Saudi considering the contraints, just the effort of imagining it made it interesting. And then we are forced to speculate how could it be otherwise? I had a look at the earlier book in the series, called Finding Nouf and I must admit I found it as frustrating and annoying as beginning City of Veils. Something about the contraints people operate under in the Middle East seem artificial and absurd. I find myself getting impatient. In the end, however, whatever I didn't like about City of Veils Was outweighed by what I learned and what I liked. As a Western woman, it is so easy to slam conservative Muslim men as neanderthal throwbacks. But understanding aids comprehension and Ferraris makes some attempt to show Muslim men as reasonable, both those that are religious and those that are not. It is no mean feat and she deserves kudos.

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