cover image The Sand Child

The Sand Child

Tahar Ben Jelloun, Tahar Ben Jelloun. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $17.95 (165pp) ISBN 978-0-15-179287-0

Seemingly cursed to father only daughters in a society that devalues females, an Arab conceals the birth of an eighth girl by proclaiming the child, Ahmed, a son and heir. The tale that follows is a cynical, dreamlike exploration of the roles into which Arab men and women are shaped: shackles to some, yet a clear identity and a well-defined bridge connecting the individual to society. At first Ahmed takes a dark delight in ""his'' secret, observing to his mother scornfully, ``You keep quiet and I give the orders. How ironic! How have you managed not to breathe the slightest seed of discontent into your daughters?'' Later a madness descends on ``him'' and is chronicled in letters, a diary and a continually unwinding story with more than one ending. The fragmented, elliptical approach Jelloun takes to his subject is not entirely successful, but his narrative can be savored for its rich, incantatory prose. (September 20)