A best-selling book when it appeared in Arabic, The Others is a literary tour de force, offering a window into one of the most repressive societies in the world. Seba al-Herz tells the story of a nameless teenager at a girls' school in the heavily Shi'ite Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Like her classmates, she has no contact with men outside her family. When the glamorous Dai tries to seduce her, her feelings of guilt are overcome by an overwhelming desire for sexual and emotional intimacy. Dai introduces her to a secret world of lesbian parties, online flirtations, and hotel liaisons - a world in which the thrill of infatuation and the shame of obsession are deeply intertwined. Al-Herz's erotic, dereamlike story of looming personal crisis is a remarkable portrait of hidden lives.More
The Others is an uncommon first-person account of a young woman in Saudi Arabia exploring politics and sexuality for the first time in her life. At a girls’ school, our nameless protagonist encounters few men, and her liaisons with a female classmate, Dai, take place behind closed doors, through clandestine text messages and secret rendezvous. Dai is powerful and attractive; at once infuriating and seductive in her attempts to control every situation.
Seba Al-Herz’s prose reads more like a diary or inner monologue, rather than a traditional narrative. And within this cascade of events, in a society where religion, politics, and sexuality are intertwined, our main character struggles with her deviant acts, her confusion festering. Increasingly alienated from the people who surround her, soon everyone seems to be an ‘other’. Ashamed and surprised by her ability to feel pleasure at Dai’s hand, she feels that even her body is betraying in its desire. We soon learn that it’s not only her engagement in a lesbian affair that makes her feel strange in her own skin and mind, but a medical condition that she denies to even herself.
Lameece Issaq narrates this unlikely coming-of-age story, lending a delicacy and cautiousness to al-Herz’s already tentative voice. At once emotive and subdued, Issaq portrays a coldness that hints at our character’s disconnect from herself and the events that unfold around her. This book is more description than story, with references to an absent father and brother springing up sparingly. Issaq does a great job of moving through the novel at a consistent pace, without letting the allusions to a bleaker situation creep in until al-Herz’s character is ready to let them. Issaq’s patience pays off as the story slowly unwinds, revealing a young woman exploring who she may or may not be. –Erin Ikeler
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Great book, terrible narrator