The Story of Zahra

Hanan al-Shaykh, Author, Peter Ford, Translator, Hanan Shaykh, Author
Hanan al-Shaykh, Author, Peter Ford, Translator, Hanan Shaykh, Author Anchor Books $18 (215p) ISBN 978-0-385-47130-5
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-385-47206-7
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Banned in several Arab nations, this rich tale mesmerizes with its frank sexuality and scenes of war-torn Beirut. Zahra is a misfit mistreated by her mother, who brings her along to secret meetings with a lover, and by her father, a harsh disciplinarian who reacts angrily to her habit of picking at her pimpled face. She leaves her parents to stay with an uncle who has fled to Africa to escape being arrested for political activity. When his affection for her grows sexual, Zahra agrees to an unsuccessful marriage with his friend Majed. Eventually, she returns to Beirut, where ``the war was like a weevil that had found its way into the heart of a huge bag of white flour and settled there,'' and begins meeting secretly to have sex with a man who may or may not be a rooftop sniper. A rotating first-person narrative gives everyone a voice; Zahra's is the most striking, but each character has memorable moments, as when Majed describes his adolescent arousal while reading Jane Eyre and seeing an illustration of the heroine kissing Mr. Rochester. Al-Shaykh ( Women of Sand and Myrrh ), a Lebanese writer now living in London, has a focused and original style. (Jan.)
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