Title: City of Veils
Author: Zoe Ferraris
Release Date: August 9, 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co.
Genre: Mystery, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
When a girl’s body washes up on shore in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the state of the body is shocking. The girl has been burned and mutilated beyond recognition, and it’s up to the police to find out who she is, why she was murdered, and who the culprit is. Katya, who has recently been promoted and is working as a forensic technician, becomes involved in the case and is determined to solve the mystery.
Finding Nouf was one of my most surprising reads this year. I didn’t expect how layered and nuanced it would be, and I loved the social commentary Ferraris made through her main character of Nayir. Therefore, I picked up its sequel, City of Veils, with a little hesitation, just because my expectations were so high. However, I needn’t have worried; Ferraris shows just as much depth and talent with this novel as she did with her first.
Nayir does once again play a large role in this novel, but he’s no longer the main character. Instead, the story is divided between several key players. The book actually focuses more on Katya, and that’s a welcome change. It’s really nice to see things from her point of view.
The growth that Nayir experienced during the course of Finding Nouf isn’t lost in City of Veils. He’s still awkward and has difficulty interacting with women, but he’s become more accepting and less harsh. He’s beginning to come to terms with the idea of women having more freedoms than they are customarily allowed in Saudi Arabia. It’s definitely a slow road, but it’s gratifying to watch him learn and open his eyes.
Part of the story in City of Veils is told from the point of view of an American woman, Miriam Walker. She moved to Saudi Arabia when her husband landed a job in Jeddah and has lived there for six months. Miriam gives the reader an outsider’s perspective on life in Saudi Arabia. It’s one thing to read about the women forced to live under such strict harsh rules when they were born into it. It’s another to read about a woman used to the freedoms of the United States, who (somewhat) willingly enters Saudi Arabian culture. Miriam illuminates some of the more pedestrian, yet still very frustrating aspects of life as a woman there, including the sheer physical difficulty of wearing a burqa.
The title City of Veils is apt. In Finding Nouf, Ferraris did her best to introduce us to a mysterious and alien culture. In this book, she exposes the contradictions within this strict society. Prostitution, the consumption of alcohol, the horrible double standard when it comes to women (men won’t let their wives work, yet complain about them being a burden and not doing anything) – Ferraris shows the reader what’s going on just beneath the surface.
This review is long, yet there is so much more to discuss within City of Veils. I will close by saying that the mystery is intriguing and does a very good job carrying the story forward. Ferraris takes disparate threads and weaves them into an engrossing whole. Though sometimes the mystery takes some suspension of disbelief, the book is an incredible one. Though it’s not necessary to read these books in order, it’s really valuable to get that initial exposition to Saudi culture present in Finding Nouf before reading this book.