by Ali al-Muqri

Controversial as ever, acclaimed Yemeni novelist Ali al-Muqri assumes a female persona in this novel to deliver a devastating condemnation of patriarchy. As a woman in an ultraconservative society, our ill-fated heroine remains nameless: she is just another hurma, literally “sanctity”, an entity to be protected from violation or dishonour – even the supposed dishonour of being named or heard.

Growing up in the stiflingly oppressive atmosphere of her childhood home in Sana’a, Hurma is buffeted by starkly contrasting influences – her brother’s socialist atheism, her sister’s extravagant but ultimately tragic sexuality, her teachers’ piety, and the intoxicating effect of underground local pornography. Isolated, oppressed and confused, she finds solace in one particular song by Egyptian superstar diva Om Kalthoum, whose lyrics weave through this claustrophobic and intimate narrative. Hurma finds herself further and further from home, caught up in jihad but still as powerless and marginalised as ever, trapped in a series of increasingly desultory relationships with impotent men, denied any true ally or outlet. As her chances of finding a meaningful adult relationship wither before her eyes, her deteriorating mental health conspires with her sexual frustration to lead her to the only truly climatic event she can precipitate for herself in her society: the ultimate act of rebellion.

Ali al-Muqri is a Yemeni writer born in 1966. He has worked in cultural journalism since 1985. He has published eight books including Black Taste, Black Odour which was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2009. Some of his works have been translated into English, German, French and Spanish. He has participated in several literary Arabic and international festivals. His latest novel, The Handsome Jew, has been longlisted for the 2011 Prize