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By (author) Bandula Chandraratna
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Serendip Publishers, Peterborough, United Kingdom
Published: 30th Nov 1998
Dimensions: h 120mm
ISBN-10: 0953240207
ISBN-13: 9780953240203
Barcode No: 9780953240203

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Kirkus UK
A beguiling tale of a middle-aged man who leaves his Arab village and goes to work at a hospital in the city. During a return visit to the village, his family persuades him to marry a local woman, a young widow with a small child. Their marriage doesn't just change their lives, it leads to unthinkable ills. The novel is built up with little details, the minutiae of life, until the family, the city and the village are as familiar as your own surroundings. Chandraratna beautifully evokes the physical senses - you can see the ants in the grass, taste the dust and sweat, smell the ordure, but there is no omniscient narrator and we are not privy to the characters' intimate feelings. People cling stubbornly to old ways of life in a world that's changing; modern industry and medicine are juxtaposed with poverty, hardship and harsh religious law. The personal tragedy is a social, cultural disgrace from an outside perspective, but maybe a justified consequence seen from within that social context. The story does not preach and final judgement is left to the reader. You won't see the clues laid out like signposts to the tragic climax. Instead, you'll be edged imperceptibly to the precipice and over it, along with the characters. Whatever your moral opinion, you cannot fail to be profoundly moved by this beautifully sad story. (Kirkus UK)
Kirkus US
A Sri Lankan first-novelist, now based in Northamptonshire, describes the travails of a poor Saudi peasant who moves to the city to earn a living. Originally self-published in 1999 in England, Chandraratna's story (see above) became a great critical success in Britain and was nearly short-listed for the Booker Prize. It takes us into the harsh yet beautiful world of Sayeed, a simple Muslim farmer in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (clearly Saudi Arabia) who leaves his ancestral village to take a job as a hospital porter in the big city. Unused to urban life, Sayeed is unhappy among the crowds of strangers and foreigners thronging the streets each day, but he works hard and is able to save much more money than he could ever have earned at home. He works so hard, in fact, that his brother Mustafa worries he may soon be too old to marry. So Mustafa arranges a wedding for Sayeed to Latifah, a beautiful young widow from a good family, and Sayeed agrees to the match. Soon he and Latifah are wed, and Sayeed returns to the city with his new family (including Latifah's little girl Leila). Sayeed had to borrow money for the wedding, and he now needs to work harder than ever to pay back the debt and provide for his wife and stepdaughter, but he is happy and proud of his new status as husband and father. The city, however, is full of new tensions: The increasing number of foreign workers (often well-paid technocrats from non-Muslim countries) who don't share the local traditions has created a backlash among Islamic fundamentalists. Attempts to enforce traditional codes of behavior have become more and more strident-and women are under great scrutiny to conform to the old ways. Sayeed is no reformer by any stretch, but he soon finds his newfound happiness threatened-and eventually destroyed-by the backlash. A touching, very simple tale made all the more powerful by its lack of artifice. (Kirkus Reviews)