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Bibliophilic Monologues

Kingdom of Strangers

Kingdom of Strangers - Zoë Ferraris I haven’t read any books set in Jeddah so my curiousity was more than piqued by the synopsis of the novel. So I requested it. It was only when I was more than fifty percent done with the book that I realized that it was the third in a series. I doubt there’s much of a carry-over from the previous books in the “series” – quotations will be explained later but I found that it stands entirely on its own as a novel. That said, let’s move on to the review proper.For some context, Saudi Arabia, particularly Mecca and its surrounding areas, have gained some reverence (in my circles) because that is the place is where the Prophet lived and breathed. What Ferraris does is take away the mysticism of the place and recreate it as a place where the same intrigues as any other place play out except in a lush and foreign background. Ferraris’s writing bespeaks a familiarity with Jeddah and the surrounding areas and I appreciated the detail in her prose and the care she took to paint an accurate picture of the world her story is set in. It is very obvious from the novel that Ferraris is very much concerned with the fate of the many Filipino women who find themselves in Saudi Arabia as housemaids. While I think her concerns are legitimate, I do believe that in the end, they interfered with the novel and it’s primary tale. I really would not have minded reading a book that focused solely on this theme in particular. However, what I signed up for was a mystery involving the nineteen women who were found dead in a lone desert area. This primary mystery seemed subsumed by the secondary mystery – the disappearance of Ibrahim’s mistress who herself was Filipino – with much of the action and page count that could have been spent in developing the serial killer case in a richer manner spent on figuring out the fate of the mistress. Even the culmination of this secondary mystery seemed anti-climactic and left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied.However, while Ferraris’s plot was less than strong, I found some of her characters fascinating. I say some because others remained shadowy, not gaining any concrete character even till the end. I liked Ibrahim and his relationship with his daughter in law. Ibrahim’s relationship with his brother was also well written. The one character I had trouble with was Nayir, the supposed protagonist of the novel. He remains ambiguous and cloaked in mystery throughout the novel. Honestly, at many points, I was convinced he was the serial killer. I find it interesting that someone who has enough prominence that the series is named after him remains enshrouded in mystery. Is it his piety that makes him so removed from the rest of the world?When all is said and done, I did enjoy the novel despite its less than stellar plot. It brought to light several topics that I think need to be discussed. It also portrayed the “treatment” of women in a society that remains stubbornly chauvinistic despite the teachings of its religion. I liked that the novel didn’t paint everything black and white but was liberal with gray. I also liked how it ended. In fact, I may look up Ferraris’s backlog and read more of the Nayir books if only to figure out the mystery of the man.