Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Dawn of Saudi

The Dawn of Saudi:
In Search for Freedom, a Contemporary Romantic Mystery

by Homa Pourasgari

(Linbrook Press / 0-977-97801-X / 978-0-977-97801-4 / June 2009 / 352 pages / $15.95 / Amazon $14.35)

Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

The Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia says that, “as documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House and even the US Department of State, Saudi women are among the most oppressed and marginalized citizens in Arab and Muslim countries.” In an author’s note at the end of her novel, Homa Pourasgari describes the social and legal environment in Saudi Arabia more directly: “Women have no rights and are considered the property of a man.”

Pourasgari’s powerful romantic mystery The Dawn of Saudi focuses on the lives of two young women who meet while attending college in Barcelona, Sahar Al-Hijazi of Saudi Arabia and Dawn Parnell of the United States. Sahar, whose travels have given her a taste of freedom, fights her family’s attempts to force her into a loveless marriage with Husam. Dawn, however, doesn’t heed her best friend’s warnings and marries a Saudi man whom she believes is a progressive thinker and finds herself trapped instead within a hopeless world.

“They buried her in an unmarked grave,” the novel begins. “Only in death did Saudi women and men receive equal treatment.” On the next page readers learn that Sahar collapsed on her wedding night, went into a coma, and died within an hour of an aneurysm.

In California, Jason Crawford worries over the news of Sahar’s death because he has business ties to the families involved and doesn’t want to see a pending merger with Crawford Enterprises jeopardized.

Subsequently, Dawn Parnell begins work as a housekeeper at the grand Crawford estate. While the house has a large staff, Dawn catches Jason’s attention even though she’s definitely not the eye-candy type of woman he usually dates and discards. Among other things, he notices that her intelligence, skills and interests greatly exceed those normally expected in a maid placed by an employment agency. How, for example, can she be an expert skier and horsewoman? Since Dawn won’t talk about her past, Jason can only wonder what she is hiding and why she hides it so fiercely.

Pourasgari’s inventive plot and strong characters not only open a wide window onto Saudi oppression of women, but make for a very strong story with the poignant moments of well-told romance and the twists and turns of page-turning mystery. Both the oppression and the fear associated with it are aptly shown from a woman’s perspective through Dawn and Sahar. Jason’s silver-spoon lifestyle and love-them-and-leave-them approach to women stands out in stark contrast to Dawn’s and Sahar’s experiences, and this adds greatly to the depth of the story.

The story’s pacing is disrupted in several sections due to the need to convey a large amount of background information to readers and to other characters about Saudi culture and conservative Islamic law through dialogue and narrative. A longer preface with basic Saudi facts might have reduced the strain on the story. An over-abundance of detail gives an intrusive travelogue flavor to a trip to a resort and a disruptive interior designer’s guidebook tone to walks through the Crawford mansion.

That said, The Dawn of Saudi remains a very satisfying novel with unforgettable characters who must fight through a labyrinth of Western apathy and frightening conservative Islamic beliefs in a search for freedom. The novel is both an education and an oasis for the human spirit.

See Also: The Author's Website
Malcolm's Review at Amazon UK
Malcolm's Review at Powell's Books
Malcolm's March of Books Review

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