MOTORBIKES AND CAMELS presents a view into a world that is oft misunderstood: the modern Middle East. Glamorized in movies like Sex and the City 2, or demonized in news articles about the draconian laws of Saudi Arabia, rarely does the Western reader see a piece of work that accurately reflects the diversity of experiences that exist in modern Arab society. Nejoud Al-Yagout has written a book that does just that.
MOTORBIKES AND CAMELS goes behind the veil (sometimes literally) to explore the lives of people living in a modern Arab society in a collection of intertwined vignettes begins and ends with Salma, a young woman looking for true love. Branching out from Salma’s story, the book then winds through the lives of her friends and families, each vignette following the next to form an intricate web of known (and unknown) connections. These women and men get married, divorced, fall in love, and find their place in society. Events unfold through the characters’ eyes, and then when the perspective shifts sometimes the same events are flipped and viewed through the eyes of others.
As in life, sometimes there are happy endings, and sometimes the reader is left wanting more. Salma’s conservative uncle Mohammed has taken a second wife and forces her to wear the hijab (headscarf). His conservative approach to Islam is exposed to be hypocritical and close-minded, and the reader experiences his marriages crumbling through the eyes of both his wives. But while the book continues to follow the first wife’s life after Mohammed, the second wife fades into the background.
Al-Yagout also does not hold back to explore stories that are taboo in this society. There is Hussam, a closeted gay man who tries to appease his family and fit into a marriage with a woman. And Saadia; a young, middle-class woman who does not embrace purity and segregation between the sexes. Al-Yagout does not demonize Islam; instead the book offers a variety of perspectives on religion and how religion diverges from faith. Later in the book the characters branch out beyond locals, and feature a foreign teacher who ends up converting to Islam. When these perspectives link and intertwine, the result is a lush, dynamic view of modern Arab society that is rarely available.
~Erin Crandell for IndieReader