When I started reading this book, I was not sure where it was going, and I was not sure whether or not I was going to like it; however, after the first few chapters, I was completely drawn in.
The story concerns a refugee from Eritria, Naser, who is brought to Saudi Arabia by his uncle, who has been living in that country for a number of years. Ten-year-old Naser and his three-year-old brother leave behind them war-ridden Eritrea, but also the love of their mother and the other women in the camp where they had been living. In Saudi Arabia everything turns into a black-and-white film where the men are all dressed in white and the women are all hidden behind black abayas. Naser grows up in a world of men, learning that women are not only less worth than men but that they are also connected with everything that is evil. If a man deviates from the path to Allah then it is with all certainty because of a woman. The religious police use the threat of punishment and death to keep the sexes apart; Naser, who still has very fond memories of his mother, cannot understand why women must be hidden away.
Then he meets a woman, who we only know of as Fiore (flower), and his entire life changes.
As a social commentary, it is interesting and disturbing to see how the men, deprived of the love of women, enter into temporary homosexual relationships until the time when they eventually marry. The hypocrisy is at times quite sickening, and the hold of the imam over the general populace is unbelievable. Naser is brave enough to rebel against mediaeval rules and regulations where man is king and woman is an unfortunate necessity. The reason he is able to rebel is because he has discovered true love, something that most of his peers never really find.
It is understandable that many men who have grown up with such beliefs often continue to act in a similar manner, even after moving into other cultures, but understanding is one thing, acceptance is another. In order to change such deeply ingrained beliefs, it would be necessary to change the teaching of the imams or else give men in these countries the permission, the space and a reason to think for themselves.
That Sulaiman Addonia was himself a refugee with many experiences that paralleled those of Naser gives the story a greater depth and credibility. Definitely worth reading.
Photo of Sulaiman Addonia from www.southbankcentre.co.uk