Monday, November 30, 2009

Columbo in the Sands

Do you remember the old TV series Columbo? Peter Falk lazily wandered around in a crumpled overcoat solving mysteries. Detective Columbo took his time getting the facts and eventually piecing the solution and all aspects of the murder. In Finding Nouf, Nayir bumbles around trying to solve the who and why of the death of Nouf Ash - Shrawi, a 16 year old daughter of a wealthy Arabian family. Her body is found in a wadi (a desert area that suddenly floods with flash flood waters) and her family has her death ruled a suicide and gets on with their life. But one step-brother, Othman, feels Nouf was murdered and wants to know the truth so he enlists desert guide and friend Nayir to find out why Nouf was killed and by whom. Othman also enlists his fiancee' Katya Hijazi, a forensic worker to work on the case without coronor approval. So Nayir and Katya slowly piece together facts and evidence to solve the mystery.

So read to find out: Did Nouf kill herself? Who did kill Nouf? How did a 16 year old female steal a camel and a truck and get away unnoticed? What is a miswak? What is a misyar? Nouf was engaged to be married in two days, but was pregnant! Who is the baby daddy? Did he kill her to hide the pregnancy on a girl that was suppose to be a wedding virgin? All this taking place in the strict religious world of Arabia, where your sandals melt to the sidewalk, yet men go buy coats at the coat bizarre. But don't forget, if an Arab get bored he can drive the one main street around and around to relieve frustrations because gas is only .52 cents a gallon and there is nothing but desert and the Red Sea in all directions! Its a cooky Columbo episode in the sand!

Although reviews have claimed this book is "fast-placed", it is as fast - paced as a turtle. It takes 300 pages to solve the mystery of Nouf's death. Nayir, like Columbo, is in no hurry.

Throughout the book the reader is exposed to the many aspects of current Arabian caste system with its expectations for men and women. How and where men talk, how and where women talk, arranged marriges, prayers and beliefs of Allah are all part of this book. This would be a great book for older teens and young adults that are studying the Arab society. But have ready to look up Arab words that the author thinks everyone knows the meaning of (context clues don't really help unless you know Arab society and terms).

On a positive note, there is slight humor - Nayir eventually does compare himself to Columbo after he buys a "Columbo coat" to wear at the coat bizarre in 95 degree sunshine and Nayir lives on a house boat. Although Nayir is a pious man, strange sexual tension tingle between Nayir and Katya which is forbidden in strict Arab society and is troublesome since Katya is Nayir's best friend's fiancee!

A great book if you want to learn about life in Arabia or have students that are looking for a positive portrayal of the Middle East lifestyles and beliefs.

Author's question and answer section about Finding Nouf on her website

In case you don't remember Columbo

1 comment:

Danielle Bartman said...

It sounds like a good read, if you were doing this book you can suggest The Kite Runner as an alternate read to relate to the middle east and their beliefs.