Maha Gargash is a documentary film maker from Dubai who wrote her debut The Sandfish as an exploration of life in what is now the United Arab Emirates before the oil economy changed everything. The idea of writing about a transformation of a wild and free girl in the mountains, who has to face the restrictions of married life was interesting, but the idea seems to be as far as Gargash got. There is little to the storyline and important scenes are over and done with too quickly. The main character Noora begins the novel as the beleaguered daughter in a family of boys who has to look after their father, whose mind is deteriorating. She goes with one of the brothers to seek help from a healing women far away and then the plot takes a turn that makes it seem more like a Western style racy romance, before settling back with an abrupt twist into an Emirates story. The latter half of the book focuses on the hardships that can be afflicted by women on each other in a society where husbands hold all the power. Or at least it does until another Western style racy romance sub-plot occurs. Eventually the story peters out into an odd ending that returns to the Emirates theme.
This book by an Emirati woman about the Emirates published by a major Western publisher. In an afterword Gargash reveals that the novel began as one about pearl fishing as that industry collapsed in the 1950s and then changed to be one about Noora. The suspicion is that she has been pushed towards writing a Western style racy romance by her Western publishers, but whoever was responsible for the final shape of the novel it reads as if there was further reshaping to do. The overall impression is of a series of plot points that are not developed into a literary whole by an author (or editor) not entirely comfortable with the novel's proclaimed theme.
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