08 August 2011

Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati

Arabian Nights comes to 2011
I’ve never been to Dubai so I dived straight in and this book turned out to be just what I needed to make yesterday, my first Sunday after months without enormous looming deadlines, pleasant and relaxing. The four Dubai women here give a good tour of the city and lifestyle, and though it added character that the book was strewn with phrases like “wudhu for Salaatul Fajr” and infused with the intoxicating scent of “bakhoor”, I did sort of wonder wistfully what they meant.
Dubai is a place teeming with single women on the make – most, but not all, just looking for the financial security of a stable, uncomplicated marriage. (And, depending on the woman, the man could be fat, old, balding, ugly, smelly, obnoxious – even short.) It’s not normal for a decent Arab guy to just leave two girls alone in a club without offering to drive them home, or at the very least, see them to a taxi. And Arabic hospitality is remarkable – they are generous with their time, attention and material possessions. Says one of the characters,
I can’t imagine being invited to join in someone else’s family picnic in Springfield Park. In fact, they’d probably nick our stuff when we weren’t looking.
In hijab, you get labelled as that “Muslim girl” rather than the “Indian girl” or the “short girl” or any other part of your identity. And:

Emirati men are incredibly thick-skinned when chasing their prey, and usually never take no for an answer. They firmly believe that a woman who ignores their attention is simply feigning indifference. They understand a downward gaze to be a prentece of chastity, an open car window an invitation to sinful acts, and a direct look a declaration of lust.

And you know all that stuff about family honour, right?
The bread in Dubai is awful – but it’s a place you don’t have to watch what you eat because all food is halal food. Your salary is linked not to your experience or competence – but to your nationality. And you can get away wearing huge Chanel sunglasses even at nine in the evening.
As this book progressed, I was drawn into the plot, agog as secrets unfolded, suspense built and collision was imminent. Most of the women characters, even the ones painted negatively, were likable and worthy of admiration – or sympathy. And in a book like this, what can you expect but the promise of a happy ending? So I didn’t like the fact that some last links in the elaborate plot had been left dangling. And while the language is racy and flows beautifully, neater editing would have ensured that “impart” was not used instead of “impose”; removed phrases like “amount of men”; and resulted in fewer confusing sentences like
I glance back at the couple and realize that the guy is Daniel, her Daniel, and the way he is looking at her suggests that their relationship isn’t purely platonic.
I didn’t much care for the nicknames of some characters – Lady Luxe, Goldenboy, Mr Delicious and others – though I suppose veils do make a subject more fascinating in a way.
But I did very much enjoy this book’s fabulous – rather Shakespearean – coincidences.
What I liked best about this book is the pervading sense of religion as a means to strengthen and stay in touch with your inner self – rather than something that isolates you from a world that views you with revulsion as violent and unpredictable.

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