The Story of Zahra, by Hanan al-Shaykh.
The Story of Zahra: A Novel by Hanan al-Shaykh. Anchor (1996), Edition: 1st Anchor Books pbk. ed, Paperback, 224 pages.
GLOBAL WOMEN OF COLOR
A strange, lyrical novel about a Lebanese woman, scared by her youth and unable to relate with a man in either peace or war.
The book opens with Zahra relating some of her early memories of her father who beat both his daughter and his wife and her mother who took the young girl with her whenever she went to meet the man with whom she was having an affair. When Zahra matures, she is passively drawn into sexual activity with a man whom she doesn’t love; later she is unable to explain why. Twice she becomes pregnant by him, and twice has an abortion. Then she begins to have “fits” and totally withdraw into herself. Going to Africa she visits an uncle, not much older than herself. While there she marries another Lebanese, again a man she doesn’t love. In separate chapters both men describe themselves and how Zahra acts while there. When she returns to Lebanon, civil war has broken out. In the midst of violence and chaos, she again becomes involved with a man. Perhaps she is finally able to find sexual satisfaction—or perhaps not.
The prose in this book is dramatic and passionate. Zahra herself is sometimes a confusing narrator, pulled back and forth between past and present and not always rational herself. She is a character who slips into fear and madness when unable to deal with the stress in her life. While some of my favorite books are written in the flowing style of this novel, I found it hard to relate to Zahra.
I recommend The Story of Zahra to readers interested in the Middle East or ones who are drawn to flowing prose with a touch of madness in it.