Synopses & Reviews
A mother’s betrayal, an unexpurgated copy of The Arabian Nights, a dazzling perfume-maker, and the scent of rose attar all serve to awaken a girl of thirteen to erotic life.
In Rikki Ducornet’s new novel, Elizabeth, the daughter of a professor of history living in Cairo in the 1950s, tells how she came to be an anatomist of mummies, as she opens up to us the sensations and aromas of ancient times, and explains how the city of Cairo itself gives her power – and wisdom – and takes away from her the part of the self that is necessary for love.
When her mother leaves her father to “walk” the streets of Cairo, and her father forgets himself in games of chess and war, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth ponders Schéhérazade’s words, “It is good for a girl to be with
a man,” and finds comfort at the shop of Ramses Ragab, a master perfumer dedicated to resurrecting the lost
fragrances of the past (the Susinum prized by Roman women; the nardinon loved by Pliny; the hekenou of
Under the tutelage of the perfumer, Elizabeth reads ancient esoteric texts and learns the mysteries of fragrance. Ramses Ragab is a sensitive and brilliant man, and Elizabeth’s burst of love for him has a child’s intensity and a young woman’s passion. When her father hires a magician to bring back his wife, Elizabeth
discovers just how precious she herself is – and how worthless – as a girl and soon to be beautiful woman,
in this ancient land of stone, sand, and darkness.
"Gazelle is a sensuous book....A mix of smells pervades its pages....Great stand-alone sentences are enough to make one's mouth water..." Evelyn Small, The Washington Post
"[E]vocative if overripe....Luminous writing is left to take up the slack left by a slow and dreamy plot, but the hothouse atmosphere is artfully contrived." Publishers Weekly
"[A] gifted fabulist with a flair for the erotic....Lushly detailed yet swiftly paced, this mythic coming-of-age novel archly traces the plexus of sensuality, intelligence, and imagination that defines the human soul." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Muted characterization and action and a voluptuous superabundance of arcane hocus-pocus....Ducornet's aphoristic élan makes all this nonsense agreeably smooth, if insubstantial and arbitrary." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] dreamy story....Intellectual ponderings about the preservation of mummified bodies and of esoteric texts...further enhance the narrative's appeal." Library Journal
"[A]nother of [Rikki Ducornet's] bold, sumptuous narratives....As usual, she is less interested in telling a story than she is in creating luminous prose....[A] slender plot, but told lovingly and well, with lyric and lilt... (Grade: B)" Duane Davis, Rocky Mountain News
About the Author
Rikki Ducornet is the author of two short-story collections, five books of poetry, and seven novels, including The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition and The Jade Cabinet. She is also a painter whose work has been exhibited widely. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado.