Ultimate outsider

The narrator of this Arabic novel—published in English by Seven Stories Press—is truly “other” in many ways: Shi’a in the Sunni nation of Saudi Arabia, a woman in a patriarchal world, an epileptic who may be outcast and unmarriageable because of her culture’s attitude toward the disease. And she is at least bisexual, involved in a relationship with a woman who is demanding and dominating. That’s a very long means of saying don’t expect this to be a “feel-good” novel; it’s claustrophobic, but offers an intriguing and much-needed glimpse at the youth culture (and the power that young people claim for themselves) within an oppressive society. First-time author al-Herz’s language (and it would be wonderful to credit the unnamed translator as well) is dense and intoxicating, and the unnamed young woman who tells the story of a year in her life and many loves invites readers to join her in the deep water of images and emotions in which she swims.