Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: The Locust and the Bird

Title The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story
Author Hanan Al-Shaykh
Rating ****
Tags non-fiction, women, lebanon, family 

Hanan Al-Shaykh is a Lebanese woman who has written several successful novels. In this book she tells the story of her mother, and, in the preface, herself. Her mother abandoned Hanan and her sister to marry another man, and Hanan was so hurt by it she had little to do with her mother, Kamila, for many years. Once adult and with children of her own she reconnected with her mother and agreed to tell Kamila's life story.

It is an amazing tale. Kamila grew up in the 30s and 40s. She was abandoned herself by her father, who paid no child support for her and her brother. They often came close to starvation, sometimes living on what was left after harvesting in the wheat fields nearby. At age eleven, she was betrothed to the widower of her half-sister, though she did not at the time realize that was the meaning of the event. At age fourteen, she fell in love with a young man named Mohammed, but against her will her family married her to her betrothed. She was a mother first at age fifteen, then three years after had Hanan. Meanwhile, she saw Mohammed as often as possible (amazingly often, actually). Their affair lasted through the years of Kamila's first marriage, and Mohammed came close to suicide at times over how much he wanted Kamila as his wife. Finally they approached Kamila's husband and she was divorced and married Mohammed. They rapidly had five children.

The book continues the tale of Kamila's life until her death at an advanced age. Throughout, we are seduced by her charm. In many ways she is superficial and selfish, but she is one of those people who is vibrantly alive no matter what circumstances life throws at her, and who has an incredible core strength, and a great deal of love for her family and others.

The book is well-written, but more, provides us with a picture of a time and place not well known to most Americans.


Publication Pantheon (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication date 2009
ISBN 0307378209 / 9780307378200

Posted via web from reannon's posterous

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