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Finding Nouf: A Novel Hardcover – June 20, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (June 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618873880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618873883
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,135,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A finely detailed literary mystery set in contemporary Saudi Arabia, Ferraris's debut centers on Nouf ash-Shrawi, a 16-year-old girl who disappeared into the desert three days before her marriage and has been found dead, several weeks pregnant. Palestinian Nayir al-Sharqi who lives in Jeddah and works occasionally for the rich Shrawi family, is asked by them to investigate Nouf's death discreetly. Nayir, a conservative Muslim and an outsider because of his nationality, his class and his large stature, is wary of traversing the wide gulf between Saudi men's and women's worlds, and is encouraged by his friend Othman, an adopted son of the Shrawis, to seek out the help of Katya Hijazi, Othman's fiancée. Katya has a Ph.D. and is employed in the women's section of the state medical examiner's office. As Nayir and Katya's investigation progresses, it becomes clear that at least one of the Shrawis has something to hide. Ferraris, who has lived in Saudi Arabia, gets deep inside Nayir's and Katya's very different perspectives, giving a fascinating glimpse into the workings and assumptions of Saudi society. As a mystery, it's fairly well-turned, but it's the characters and setting that sparkle. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Finding Nouf is an astounding feat of storytelling, a gripping novel that also explores with unsparing, sympathetic insight how the men and women of Saudi Arabia’s new generation struggle with their modernizing yet still traditional society. —Azadeh Moaveni, author of Lipstick Jihad

Finding Nouf is my favorite kind of mystery: an unlikely detective guiding us through an unfamiliar world. Ferraris uses the genre smartly, setting an unsolved murder in a society that is complex, veiled, and itself full of mystery and intrigue.
—David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife

Zoë Ferraris’s novel lifts the veil on the repressed personal lives of Saudi Arabia’s rich, giving us unparalleled insight into daily life in an oft-caricatured culture—and a great mystery. Her detective, Nayir al-Sharqi, is a sharp desert guide, and one might say that in her writing Ferraris follows a similar profession. —Matt Beynon Rees, author of The Collaborator of Bethlehem

The mystery that preoccupies Finding Nouf keeps you turning its pages, while its characters linger with you long after you’ve finished. Katya and Nayir’s unconventional partnership argues for the virtues of reconciliation even as it throws off sparks. Finding Nouf is a compelling and deeply humane book.—Anita Amirrezvani, author of The Blood of Flowers

Finding Nouf combines the ancient mysteries of the desert with sleek literary prose. This deeply original work is entrancing, stylish, and utterly compelling. —Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Crescent

Ferraris offers up a fascinating peek into the lives and minds of devout Muslim men and women while serving up an engrossing mystery ... Highly recommended.
Library Journal

A finely nuanced first novel offering an exceptionally balanced look at male and female perspectives.
Kirkus Reviews

With her debut novel, Zoe Ferraris makes a wonderful contribution to the burgeoning genre of ethnographic literary crime fiction. -- Financial Times

"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." Los Angeles Times

"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." Minneapolis Star-Tribune

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

What truly sets this book apart from a detective novel is its prose.
The San Francisco Chronicle

Offers a fascinating glimpse inside domestic Saudi Arabia...a page-turning thriller..."Finding Nouf" turns out to be a great beach read. Cleveland Plain Dealer

Customer Reviews

The mystery is good, and the characters interesting and well developed, but it's the setting that is the most intriguing part.
FINDING NOUF was an enjoyable read and I'm excited that it's part of a series - definitely look forward to reading the other books featuring Nayir and Katya!
J. P.
This is a detective story which, despite being fictional, provides an endearing insight into the lives, culture and religious matters in a Gulf country.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Gail Birch on January 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a western woman and a former resident of Saudi Arabia, who speaks, reads and writes Arabic, I heartily recommend Finding Nouf. In addition to its well-structured plot and stunning prose, I want to point out some of the things I liked about it since I lived in the city where the story takes place.

Several reviewers have noted that the city of Jeddah comes through as a character in the book, and I wholeheartedly agree. More freewheeling and less restrictive than the capital Riyadh, Jeddah is a behemoth-sized eddy in the current of humanity where eccentrics turn up and stay for decades. Ferraris has captured its spirit. She gently leads the reader into the home of a wealthy family, a modest walk-up apartment in the old quarter, "Club Jed" - a foreigners' compound, as well as markets, offices and restaurants.

She also walks the reader through the puzzling issues one faces when trying to negotiate daily life in that social system with its curious customs. Then she shows how it's common and even acceptable to break some of the rules, if it's done discreetly and for good reason. The book's pacing, too, rings true to me. That's how things happen there.

When writing about men and women in Saudi Arabia, it's easy for western writers to slip into a patronizing or judgmental tone. Author Ferraris' never does this. She respects each character and the dilemmas they face.

I found her supporting characters particularly authentic, such as Miss Hijazi's father, her driver or `escort', and the optometrist. They all reflect the fascinating jumble of humanity in Jeddah.

Most important of all, Ferraris' portrayal of Katya Hijazi is splendid. She's a fine example of sensible and intelligent young Saudi women who don't sit back complaining about the social system. Instead, they get the job done within the system and in spite of it.

Mabruk (congratulations) to Ferraris. Please bring us more adventures of Nayir and Katya.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Tom Weikert on July 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Finding Nouf is an intriguing, often suspenseful murder mystery set against the backdrop of simmering generational differences in modern Saudi Arabian society. The two central characters, Nayir al-Sharqi and Katya Hijazi, represent opposite ends of the great divide between the older Wahhabist Sunni establishment and an emerging, decidedly less observant younger generation of Saudis. Their unusual partnership, entered into in order to solve the mystery, exemplifies some of the struggles occurring between older, traditional Arab men and younger, more liberated women relative to acceptable roles for women in society.

Nayir, actually a Palestinian, is almost a caricature of the pious Muslim. Despite the bonds imposed on him by restrictive Saudi society, he longs for romance and struggles to reconcile his need for companionship with his strict adherence to Sharia law. Interestingly, he seems to chafe against those oppressive bonds, particularly as they restrict his ability to work with women. Even making eye contact with a woman causes him great angst. As a result of this personal torment and the baggage associated with a previously failed relationship, Nayir is in a sort of self-imposed romantic exile - living a Spartan, reclusive existence on a sailboat in Jeddah harbor.

Katya by contrast represents the newly empowered younger generation of Saudi women entirely comfortable in their hard-won independence. While complying with such government-enforced customs as remaining covered from head to toe in public, Katya reaches considerably higher professionally than many Saudi women - even earning a Ph.D. Employed as a medical examiner, she spreads her wings in investigating a murder that strikes uncomfortably close to home - the home, that is, of her fiancé.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on August 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Despite the fact that the Middle East's role in world affairs increases as each decade passes, most Westerners have only a hazy comprehension of the region's culture and its people. And, ever since the chain of events that began with the September 2001 murders in New York City, what we do know is largely distorted by the media coverage that tends to deal almost exclusively with the terrorist segment of the Muslim world. That makes a novel like Finding Nouf, one that tells its story through the eyes of ordinary Saudi citizens trying to do the right thing despite the constraints of Saudi Arabian society, one of the more intriguing books of 2008.

When sixteen-year-old Nouf ash-Shrawi disappears from her wealthy family's isolated home, it is at first hoped that she has simply run away, perhaps suffering a bad case of nerves about her impending marriage. But an examination of her body after she has been found dead in the desert leaves little doubt that Nouf has been murdered and Nayir ash-Sharqi, a family friend and desert tracker who failed in his quest to find her before she died, feels both the guilt of that failure and a responsibility to determine exactly what happened to the girl.

Nayir finds a ready ally in Katya Hijazi, a lab technician who, like Nayir, is a friend of the Shrawi family (she is the fiancée of Nouf's adopted brother, Othman) and who has been asked to keep an eye on the official investigation into Nouf's death. But Katya is more than Nayir, a strictly religious Palestinian who has had only limited contact with Saudi women, knows how to handle. He finds her aggressiveness and willingness to display her face in all but the most public of venues to be shocking, especially when he learns that she is engaged to his good friend, Othman.
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