It has been said that for love to start all it takes is a look or a word. In this book it all starts with a note dropped hastily into an Eritrean boy's lap as he whiles away the horribly long hours of summer in the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Nasir finds himself an immigrant at the tender age of ten fleeing from war in Eritrea. His uncle who takes him and his brother under his wing shows clear signs of having become religious while living in Saudi Arabia and even goes as far as banning the two brothers from ever mentioning their mother calling her an apostate. Nasir unlike his brother is against all forms of organized religion and watches with sadness and anger as the religious police swarm the malls and arrest people who they think are not religious enough.
Initially truly happy to be as far as possible from his war-torn village yet also longing for his mother, he is fascinated with Jeddah's lights and skyscrapers but as he grows up we find that he becomes lonely and withdrawn because he is a sensitive boy who believes in love and wants to find a woman one day who he can truly fall in love with. A dream that seems impossible for someone in his situation living in Saudi Arabia. That is until unexpectedly a note falls into his lap from a woman declaring her love for him and Nasir's whole world is turned upside down.
In the novel, Saudi Arabia is in Naser's view a never-ending black-and-white movie reel refering to the men in their white 'thobes' and the black-clad women who follow behind them. That all changes when the love affair starts with the woman in the pink shoes and life is full of colour and hope. But Naser lives in a country where love between unmarried couples could mean a lashing or even a beheading in Punishment Square. A country where 'beautiful' men like Nasir are in their 'kafeel's' grip to do with them as they please and where the rape of men by influential Saudi men seems a normal daily exercise.
This is a very gripping story once it gets going. There are moments that not only make you feel angry but disgusted at what so-called religious men do in the name of God. The wahhabism rule of Saudi Arabia dominates throughout the novel and even as good things happen in the story the shadow of doom lurks in wait.
I did enjoy the story and it did give me a glimpse into the everyday life from an immigrants' point of view. A rare case at best as most writings in Saudi are produced by Saudis themselves. Unfortunately this book will not linger with me for its depth or violence but maybe as a love story with possibly a happy ending one day. I shall leave that for you to decide if you ever read the book.
To learn more about Sulaiman Addonia click here.