A beautifully told story, touchingly read by Christopher Simpson.
After his reading of Q&A/ Slumdog Millionaire I wondered if Christopher Simpson could become one of my favourite narrators. With listening to this reading the answer is undoubtedly Yes.
The book is also a little marvel. It vastly surpasses the chic lit Girls Of Riyadh which lies in the same space – that of sexual repression under the strict Saudi regime. Here we follow the fortunes of Eritrean refugee Nasar, now living in Jeddah.
Nasar’s life could not be more different to that of the gossiping Girls of the upper echelons of Saudi society found in Rajaa Alsanea’s book. His world is full of folks doing menial work, scraping a living, sniffing glue; amidst sexual abuse and male prostitution, surrounded by opulence on the one hand and state sanctioned barbarism on the other. In a society full of extortion, corruption and double standards a lone, young and attractive, foreign boy like Naser is at the bottom of the pecking order.
Remembering his mother’s sacrifice to get him and his younger brother out of the war zone their country had become, he spends his time dreaming of women in a world of men. The Jeddah he sees is black and white – the black abayas of the women and the white robes of the men. He never sees a woman, only their black. They are hidden and separate. They, and the love he seeks, are inaccessible, unavailable until, in streets patrolled by the religious police, a love letter drops at his feet and brings pink shoed Fiore into his life. We are swept along by their courtship, deepening love into the Consequences of their illicit love.
The harsh realities of life hit home and test the young lovers resolve and commitment. Without giving anyway the ending of this book it is hard to make further comment, except to say this was a politically and emotionally charged, memorable read. As a first book I thought it tremendous achievement.
ashramblings verdict 5* if you read any of Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh, Yasmina Khadra’s Swallows of Kabul and / or Khaled Hossein’s A Thousand Splendid Suns then you must read this. Highly recommended.