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The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Storyby Hanan Al Shaykh
Synopses & Reviews
“One of the most daring female writers of the Middle East” (San Francisco Chronicle) gives us an extraordinary work of nonfiction: an account of her mothers remarkable life, at the core of which is a tale of undying love.
In a masterly act of literary transformation, Hanan al-Shaykh re-creates the dramatic life of her mother, Kamila, in Kamilas own voice. We enter 1930s Beirut through the eyes of the unschooled but irrepressibly spirited nine-year-old child who arrives there from a small village in southern Lebanon. We see her drawn to the excitements of the city, to the thrill of the cinema, and, most powerfully, to Mohammed, the young man who will be the love of her life.
Despite a forced marriage at the age of thirteen to a much older man, despite the two daughters she bears him (one of them the author), despite the scandal and embarrassment she brings to her family, Kamila continues to see Mohammed. Finally, after nearly a decade, her husband gives her a divorce, but she must leave her children behind
The Locust and the Bird is both a tribute to a strong-willed and independent woman and a heartfelt critique of a mother whose decision were unorthodox and often controversial. As the narrative unfolds through the years (Kamila died in 2001) we follow this passionate, strong, demanding, and captivating woman as she survives the tragedies and celebrates the triumphs of a life lived to the very fullest.
"Al-Shaykh, a Lebanese journalist and author of six novels (including Story of Zahra), finally succumbs to her illiterate mother Kamila's haranguing to write her story. The result falls somewhere between memoir and biography as she recreates and undoubtedly takes literary license with her mother's history. Kamila and her brother grow up in poverty, estranged from their father, until their mother moves them to Beirut to live with their older siblings from her first marriage in the 1930s. Soon, one of their sisters dies of rabies and the family marries 14-year-old Kamila unwillingly to the widower, Abu-Hussein, 18 years her elder. Kamila torments her husband to show her displeasure, but bears him two children by the age of 17. Her starry-eyed love of the cinema is all that assuages her unhappiness but also fuels her affair with a man her own age, Muhammed. After the 10-year affair has shamed both their families, she is granted a divorce from Abu-Hussein but must leave her two daughters behind, including the author, Hanan. Kamila has five more children with Muhammed. Though at times Kamila's life feels overly condensed, the author's journalistic talent reveals itself in her ability to get past her own abandonment to paint Kamila as a vivid, willful girl who lived as though she were the heroine of a great film." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
HANAN AL-SHAYKH was born and raised in Lebanon. Her novels include Women of Sand
and Myrrh, The Story of Zahra, Beirut Blues, and Only in London, as well as a collection of short stories, I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops. She lives in London.
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