Finding Nouf (Paperback)

By Zoe Ferraris

Mariner Books, 9780547237787, 305pp.

Publication Date: May 6, 2009

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Description

Zoe Ferraris's electrifying debut of taut psychological suspense offers an unprecedented window into Saudi Arabia and the lives of men and women there. When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, along with a truck and her favorite camel, her prominent family calls on Nayir al-Sharqi, a desert guide, to lead a search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. But when the coroner's office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened to her.

This mission will push gentle, hulking, pious Nayir, a Palestinian orphan raised by his bachelor uncle, to delve into the secret life of a rich, protected teenage girl--in one of the most rigidly gender-segregated of Middle Eastern societies. Initially horrified at the idea of a woman bold enough to bare her face and to work in public, Nayir soon realizes that if he wants to gain access to the hidden world of women, he will have to join forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner's office. Their partnership challenges Nayir, bringing him face to face with his desire for female companionship and the limitations imposed by his beliefs. It also ultimately leads them both to surprising revelations. Fast-paced and utterly transporting, Finding Nouf offers an intimate glimpse inside a closed society and a riveting literary mystery.


Praise For Finding Nouf

"What''s remarkable about this debut is that its mystery takes place within a culture that is largely under wraps ... The thriller plot is well-placed. But it''s the individual journeys of Nayir and Katya, who abide by society''s strictures even as they are frustrated by them, that elevate Finding Nouf to a larger human drama."



"[Ferraris] weaves a richly detailed tapestry of the country''s gender-segregated and pious Muslim culture."



"A finely tuned character study ... both particularly well-crafted and readily accessible for American readers. Just make sure you turn up the air-conditioning before sitting down to read."



"Ferraris writes with authority on how Saudi insiders and outsiders alike perceive the United States ... With equal authority, she stakes her own claim on the world map, opening Saudi Arabia up for mystery fans to reveal the true minds and hearts of its denizens."


-Sarah Weinman

"In Finding Nouf, first-time novelist [Zoe Ferraris] gives us an imaginative and closely observed murder mystery set in the Saudi port town of Jeddah, a literary detective novel that balances the pleasures of plot with finely milled prose ... As a good detective novel should, Finding Nouf visits all the nooks and crannies of society ... Characters a lesser writer would skim over with a few generic adjectives come alive in Ferraris''s hands and pull you into their world. But what truly sets this book apart from a detective novel is its prose."



"The author''s canny move using the tried-and-true murder mystery format allows her to sketch a trenchant portrait of Saudi society within an engaging yarn."



"Finding Nouf, Zoe Ferraris''s engrossing debut novel, yanks the veil off Saudi Arabian culture while unraveling a compelling murder mystery."



"Reads like a breeze ... Ferraris offers a fascinating glimpse inside domestic Saudi Arabia. Even better, she has written a fascinating thriller, not only an academic treatment. Finding Nouf turns out to be a great beach read."



Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. Nayir feels obligated to find Nouf as a favor to his friend Othman, and to the Shrawi family, which has been very good to him. What deeper meaning does the search for Nouf have for Nayir? Discuss the relevance of the title, Finding Nouf.
  2. Finding Nouf tells a moving and mysterious story, but also gives readers a peek into the world of conservative Muslims in Saudi Arabia. How do Muslim customs hinder Nayir and Katya in their investigation? How do these customs help the investigators?
  3. Nayir's identity is almost entirely contingent on his modesty and righteousness. Do you think he overdoes it? If so, what might Nayir be compensating for? How do other Muslims in the novel, both men and women, seem to feel about his religious conservatism? What do their perspectives tell you about modern Saudi Arabia?
  4. In a world that values family and community above individuality, Nayir seems an independent nation. He feels most at home in the desert or on the sea, far away from the city and its populace. Examine Nayir's comparison of the desert with the sea. What attracts him to each? Why do you think he prefers these places to the city?
  5. The task of penetrating the cloistered world of a rich Muslim girl forces Nayir to face his disappointments as a bachelor and his lifelong curiosities about women. Raised primarily by his uncle and with little courting experience, Nayir has had few opportunities for exposure to the feminine. Find examples throughout the book of Nayir's longing for contact with, and insight into, womankind. Discuss how his opinions and impressions change or remain the same by the end of the novel.
  6. The novel portrays various levels of seclusion in Saudi Arabian culture. Identify the ways in which people and groups are cut off from one another, both literally and figuratively, and examine how these imposed structures and traditions affect people's opinions of, and interactions with, one another.
  7. Nayir muses about the confession he's just obtained from Muhammad: Nouf was planning to abandon her husband in New York and make a life in America. He thinks, "She had died in the desert, but her running to America would have been another kind of death." What does he mean? What is it that disturbs him most about Nouf's secret plans?
  8. When Nayir meets paper-artist Juliet at the American Ladies of Jeddah meeting, he is both painfully uncomfortable and deeply intrigued. How do you feel about his interpretation of her? What was it like for you to see American culture, particularly as it relates to American women, from a wholly outside, naïve perspective?
  9. With reservation, Nayir accompanies Katya to the Big Mix, a desegregated lunch buffet open to families and friendly to unmarried couples. Inside, despite an initial discomfort about the unveiled female diners, Nayir "felt relief, mingled with surprise that a restaurant as modern as this one would be filled with good people acting appropriately." What does this tell you about Nayir? Do you think the experience changes him in any way? Why or why not? What does this scene tell you about Saudi Arabia and its shifting values in the modern age?
  10. Katya takes issue with Nayir's belief that Nouf "had everything," arguing that Nouf only "had everything her father let her have." What is the difference? Outline both Nayir's and Katya's perspectives on what might have happened to Nouf and explain where each is coming from. Do you see Nouf as spoiled and ungrateful, as Nayir seems to, or do you sympathize with her desperation, as Katya does? Explain your opinion.
  11. Compare and contrast the relationships between Muhammad and Nouf and Ahmad and Katya. How would you characterize each? Do you agree with Nayir, that Muhammad failed to protect Nouf because he was too busy spoiling her, probably out of his own secret desire for her? How do Muhammad's indiscretions stack up against Ahmad's? He similarly keeps Katya's secrets as she breaks the law and otherwise behaves in what her father (and others) might deem an inappropriate manner. Do you think these men are doing their jobs? Why or why not?
  12. When did you first begin to suspect that Othman's interest in finding out what happened to Nouf might be more than brotherly concern? What clues were there that he was the father of Nouf's child?
  13. Discuss the interaction between Katya and her future in-laws. Friends have told her that a woman should choose a husband based on his mother and sisters. Why? Do you think Katya would ever have assimilated into the Shrawi household? Why or why not? What does Othman's behavior in the coatroom indicate to Katya? Why do you think she bursts into tears after leaving?
  14. Discuss how Nayir's stereotypical "knowledge" of women limited his theories to possible motives a man would have for kidnapping or killing Nouf. Did you suspect she might have been killed for other reasons, or by a woman? Why or why not?
  15. How does the author comment on certain aspects of conservative Islam, such as the Saudi religious police and rules restricting women? Do you feel that you know her opinion by the end of the novel? If so, what is it? If not, why not? Did reading this novel at all affect your opinions of the American lifestyle? Why or why not?
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