Title: Finding Nouf
Author: Zoe Ferraris
Release Date: June 20, 2008
Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Mystery, Multicultural Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
When a sixteen year old girl named Nouf goes missing in Saudi Arabia just a few days before her wedding, her wealthy family contacts Nayir al-Sharqi, a Palestinian and friend of the family, to investigate her disappearance. Nayir’s search takes him through all classes of Saudi Arabia and forces him to interact with women, something he isn’t quite comfortable with.
I’d heard great things about Finding Nouf and have been wanting to read it for some time. When its sequel, City of Veils arrived on my doorstep, it moved to the top of my list. I was eager to delve into the mysterious and difficult world of Saudi Arabia in order to solve the mystery of Nouf’s disappearance.
Finding Nouf was an exquisitely written novel that I can’t praise highly enough. It is a literary mystery, rather than a thriller, and Ferraris takes the time to create a vivid setting. For most Western audiences, what life is like in Saudi Arabia, especially for women, is a big question mark. Ferraris lifts the veil (metaphorically and literally) from this cloistered world, and gives the reader a real sense of the mechanisms of every day life in this country. It’s also nice to read a book about the Middle East that doesn’t focus on war. Instead, this is a quiet novel that provides a glimpse into Saudi Arabian life.
The main character, Nayir, is a contradiction. He’s a very good man, honest and principled, yet he cannot interact with women. Through Nayir, we see how much women are considered second-class citizens in Saudi Arabian societies. He describes men who consider themselves unclean if they even see a woman after performing their ablutions. Nayir himself has some of these same reservations – he becomes incredibly embarrassed for a woman if he sees her with her face uncovered because it isn’t “proper”. He’s the type of person that would infuriate me had I met him on the street, and yet Ferraris portrays him so well that it’s difficult to dislike him. I loved how his eyes opened as the book progressed and his judgments and principles were called into question. Ferraris really put a human face on the extremely conservative Muslim, and I appreciated that she broadened my worldview.
The mystery in Finding Nouf was merely the icing on the cake. The setting and intriguing main character were enough to make me want to read this book, yet Ferraris also crafted an engrossing puzzle for the reader. It made the book incredibly enjoyable and difficult to put down.
I can’t recommend Finding Nouf highly enough. Zoe Ferraris did an exceptional job with this novel – each aspect of it is exquisitely crafted. I cannot wait to read the sequel, and am very hopeful that this will become a full-fledged series.