Tuesday, December 27, 2016

United Arab Emirates: That Other Me, by Maha Gargash

"That Other Me" explores the position of women in Emirati society through the eyes of three people. Majed Al-Naseemy is a wealthy businessman from Dubai, struggling to retain control of his life. His niece Mariam, daughter of his deceased brother Hareb, is studying dentistry in Cairo, in the hopes of making a life for herself away from the influence of her hated uncle. Dalal, daughter of Majed's second secret marriage, is also living in Cairo with her divorced mother, attempting to make it as a singer into the world of Arab popular music.

As Majed attempts to exert his authority over Dalal and Mariam, things start to unravel for all three of them. Dalal refuses his commands to abandon her career. Mariam is recalled to Dubai, where a marriage is arranged for her to a considerably older man, the only son of a rich widow. At her wedding there is an explosive showdown when Dalal appears among the guests.

This is an enormously readable book and provides a fascinating insight into the lives of Arab women. I found it interesting that dates of events are specified very exactly, so that we learn that it takes place between 1995 and 1998, even though it was published in 2016. There are no obvious political events that require those dates, which makes me wonder if the author has perhaps set it at the time when she was roughly the same age as the two girls.

Maha Gargash was born in Dubai to a prominent business family, studied in the United States and London, and joined Dubai Television where she directed documentaries dealing mainly with traditional Arab societies. Her first novel, "The Sand Fish" was an international best seller.

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