Usually I review non-fiction books here, or novels with belly dancers in them. Today I’d like to give you three mini book reviews of works of fiction that while not specifically about belly dancers, may be of interest for dancers.
A Caravan of Brides
The first book I’d like to talk about should appeal to lovers of literary fiction. A Caravan of Brides is a story within a story, following two Saudi Arabian young women — one in our current age, and one telling a story of the past. This book’s themes include female friendship, honoring our elders, and preserving oral history. There’s also a thread of romance that runs through it.
Author Kay Hardy Campbell is not of Saudi heritage, but she has spent significant time in Saudi Arabia and has done her research. The result of this is a book that feels mostly authentic from my admittedly outsider perspective, but there were moments where I felt the narration felt disingenuous because a Saudi narrator was taking time to explain things that she wouldn’t think twice about. This may make the book more accessible for non-Saudi readers and will hopefully inspire them to seek out works by native MENAT authors to get a deeper understanding of the culture.
The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories
When I was a teenager I went through a period where I really loved themed anthologies because I enjoyed having a whole bunch of interpretations of the same idea. While I’m not as avid a reader of such collections anymore, I still pick one up from time to time and I was definitely intrigued by The Djinn Falls in Love.
As you surely surmised from the title, this anthology features stories that have one or more djinn on them. Written by a diverse cast of authors, they present an equally diverse interpretation of djinn. We find them in almost any country Arabic or Muslim people have lived, in space, in history, the future, in imaged lands. Some stories have a romantic bent, others feel more like horror. One or two are very erotic in nature, so some parents may not want to share this one with younger readers.
I find anthologies are especially nice for those times when you’re too busy to immerse yourself in a full novel. Either read them in order, or sit down and choose one that seems like the right length for the window of time you have that day.
The City of Brass
If you’d prefer a novel that features djinn, may I recommend The City of Brass? This is the first book of a trilogy and while it has many of the familiar tropes of a classic fantasy trilogy (an orphan with a mysterious past, a hidden city, corrupt royalty, potential love trials, scheming rebels…) it sets them all in the MENAT world.
The City of Brass has some elements of both Young Adult and Adult fantasy, so it should appeal to audience of about 13 and up. I didn’t find it as immature as some YA (I don’t have a lot of patience for some teenage narrators), but it didn’t have any graphic sex or extreme violence, either.
Although it is a little trope-y, The City of Brass was well-paced and had a likeable narrator, so for me it was a comfort read. If you enjoy a good fantasy trilogy but would rather have djinn and magic carpets than dragons and horses, this may be just your cup of tea.
Do you have a favorite work of fiction with a MENAT or MENAT-inspired setting, or belly dancing characters? Let me know in the comments.
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