Finding Nouf – Book Review


Standing above the rug, he began to pray, but his thoughts continually turned to Nouf. For the sake of modesty, he tried not to imagine her face or her body, but the more he thought about her, the more vivid she became. In his mind she was walking through the desert, leaning into the wind, black cloak whipping against her sunburned ankles. – from Finding Nouf, page 2 –

Nayir ash-Sharqi, a desert guide, is hired by the Shrawi family to locate a family member who has disappeared. Nouf, only sixteen years old and planning her wedding, appears to have run away into the desert. But when her body is found in a wadi and the coroner reveals her cause of death as drowning, disturbing questions arise. Nayir joins forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner’s office who is like no woman he has ever met. Together they begin to piece together Nouf’s last days and hours to uncover the mystery surrounding her death.

Finding Nouf is at its heart a mystery, but it is also more than this. Set in modern Saudi Arabia, the novel explores the role of women in a gender-segregated society which clings to its history while at the same time must address the changing views of the women it seeks to control and protect. Nayir is a devote man who prays regularly and wishes to follow the laws of Allah; but he is also a bachelor who fantasizes  of one day finding a woman with whom he can share his life.

Nayir sipped his tea and marveled at the casual way that Muhammad had spoken of his wife. There had been no need to explain who she was, and telling Nayir her name was something else entirely. It put Muhammad squarely in the category of young infidel wannabe. Gone were the days of calling one’s wife “the mother of Muhammad Junior”; today women had first names, last names, jobs and whatnot. He wondered how many men had known Nouf’s name. – from Finding Nouf, page 97 –

Nayir’s conflicted feelings provide the tension in the book. At first I disliked Nayir, finding him rigidly pious and chauvinistic. Ferraris does a remarkable job turning Nayir from a largely distasteful character to one the reader begins to respect. It is Nayir’s growth as a man (who comes to see women as human beings with dreams, desires and individual strengths) which elevates the novel to more than a simple whodunnit.

Katya represents the modern Saudi woman – a woman who has her own job and dares to speak to men not related to her. It is through her that the reader begins to gain a deeper understanding of Nouf – a teenager from a wealthy family who yearns for freedom.

Zoe Ferraris once lived in Saudi Arabia during the time following the first Gulf War. At that time, she was married to a Saudi-Palestinian Bedouin and was exposed to a culture largely closed to Americans. Knowing this about the author gave me respect for the perspective of this novel which although seen mostly through the eyes of the lead male character, exposes the dreams and desires of women living in a paternalistic society.

Ferraris’ writing is clean and riveting. The core mystery (what actually happened to Nouf) has many twists and turns which kept me guessing right to the end. This is a novel I would classify as “literary mystery” as its focus is as much on its main characters (and their growth) as on the mystery which propels the story.

Readers who enjoy a good mystery, as well as literary fiction, will enjoy this look inside the Saudi culture.



Finding Nouf is the 2009 Alex Award Winner

Zoe Ferraris Website

New Novel due out Spring 2010 (sequel to Finding Nouf): City of Veils

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On My Bookshelf

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    • diane on July 25, 2009 at 12:23

    i reallt enjoyed this book when i read it as well; great review.

    • Kathy on July 25, 2009 at 13:01

    This sounds fascinating, especially knowing the author’s background.

  1. So glad you liked it! Great review … and great to know there is a sequel coming!

    • Wendy on July 26, 2009 at 10:01

    Diane: I looked for your review of it, but couldn’t locate it on your blog. If you give me the link, I’ll add it above 🙂

    Kathy: I found the author’s background intriguing … it added to the book for me.

    Melissa: *nods* I am eager to read the sequel too! Do you have a review posted on your blog? Let me know if you do and I’ll add it to the list of blog reviews for the book!

    • Pam on July 26, 2009 at 12:55

    This looks good. I’m glad that Nayir redeemed himself. I find that I am often more drawn to conflicted, initially unlikable characters who have a spark of good than I am to the purely good or wholesome characters.

    • Wendy on July 26, 2009 at 14:36

    Pam: I agree – they are much more interesting characters when they are not so perfect. I am glad he redeemed himself too 🙂

  2. This book sounds really good. I have been in a mood for a good mystery but nothing sitting on my shelves currently has called to me (isnt that just the way it goes!)

  3. this sounds like a fascinating read. Thanks for a great review.

    • Jill on July 30, 2009 at 15:09

    This book has been on Mount TBR for awhile. Glad you liked it!

    • Wendy on July 31, 2009 at 07:28

    Sheila: I know what you mean…I have a TON of books on my shelves and sometimes I sit there gazing at them and nothing “speaks” to me…ridiculous!

    Serena: You’re welcome 🙂

    Jill: I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on it!

    • Lisa on August 10, 2010 at 03:25

    I remember when this book first came out and I was intrigued by it but for some reason it had left my memory and I hadn’t thought about it until recently when I saw that City of Veils had come out. I am happily reminded of Finding Nouf and will make sure it doesn’t get lost in the mix this time. It is a book I think will be good for many reasons. I love your review (although I’m a bit late in reading it!) I haven’t visited your blog in awhile but I hope you are doing well. Take care ~Lisa

    • Wendy on August 15, 2010 at 08:56

    Lisa: Thanks for dropping by! I have City of Veils on my stacks to read very soon and I’m looking forward to it because I really like the first one…Hope you’ll find time to read Finding Nouf….it is very well written!

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