cover image An Unlasting Home

An Unlasting Home

Mai Al-Nakib. Custom House, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-313509-3

This sweeping debut novel from Al-Nakib (after the collection The Hidden Light of Objects) imagines an alternate reality for contemporary Kuwait in which blasphemy is made a capital crime. Sara, a professor of philosophy at Kuwait University, has been accused of blasphemy by one of her students. The offending lesson was on Nietzsche; according to her lawyer, the text’s Arabic translation “sounds even more damning” than the original. She examines why she returned to Kuwait 11 years earlier after so many years away, most recently in Berkeley, Calif. Part of it was to be closer to the spirit of her late mother. She also considers how previous generations of her family endured their country’s painful draconian rule. Alternating chapters skip between Sara’s present dilemma and the difficult choices her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents made as they moved to Turkey, Iraq, India, and the U.S., only to find themselves ever again Kuwaitis. Al-Nakib renders each family member with care and exacting observation. As Sara’s verdict looms, this grapples profoundly with the limits of individual choice and the hold exerted by a person’s homeland. The result is accomplished and searing. Agent: Anjali Singh, Ayesha Pande Literary. (Apr.)