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Harem: A Novel Paperback – August 6, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; First Edition edition (August 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743230213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743230216
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,473,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lush and erotic, this first novel overflows with the magic and sensuality of Arabian Nights tales, 19th-century orientalist paintings and languorous, silken-pantalooned harem beauties. Set in 14th-century Persia, the tale moves easily between the crowded, garbage-strewn alleys of the Jewish quarter and the magnificent palace of the shah. The shah's palace harem is concealed behind a tracery of delicately carved stone panels, where his 365 wives and their many attendant eunuchs lounge, and the queen mother, Bibi Sultana, rules. In the Jewish quarter, the characters are Rebekah, the indomitable heroine; the ancient Zoroastrian, a seeress; the one-eyed rabbi; the merchant Rouh'Allah, who realizes nearly too late he loves Rebekah; and Moses, fated to be gelded and become a lover to the shah. Rebekah is only 10 when she's married to Jacob the Fatherless, a brutal blacksmith, and branded by him with a hot iron bar between her breasts, a mark that will assume nearly supernatural importance. After Jacob commits suicide, Rebekah becomes a prostitute to support her child, Gold Dust. Determined to place her daughter within the harem, she sells her charms to Narcissus, the chief eunuch, even though he carries "his manhood pickled in a jar." Gold Dust becomes the shah's favorite, but provides the sonless ruler with another daughter, Raven, who will eventually be as implacable as her grandmother. The multifaceted story involves an invasion by the Mongol hordes under Teymour the Lame (Tamerlane) and daring escapes by Rebekah and Gold Dust. Shamelessly exotic, it's a delightful read and a grandly romantic escapade. lives in the U.S.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this heavily eroticized novel, Mossanen tells the story of three generations of women - Rebekah, Gold Dust, and Raven - all impossibly beautiful and eminently capable of seducing the most powerful men in all of Persia, including the shah himself. The intricate plot reads like a combination of fairy tale, fantasy, and romance novel. Wicked men and irresistible women, corrupt eunuchs and bitter sultanas all vie for the shah's attention. And yet none of the women can fulfill the shah's deepest wish - to bear a son who will become heir and rule the empire. Though the plot is strangely compelling, the writing tends toward cliche, particularly in the dialog. After a while, the exclamations of "Yes, tonight he would have her" and "You are mine!" become rather tedious and overblown. The unrelenting sexuality of all three women is not empowering but rather unsettling and, at times, downright disturbing. Despite the novel's exotic setting and richly imagined characters, this is an uneven debut. - Amy Strong, South Portland, ME
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Dora Levy Mossanen was born in Israel and moved to Iran when she was nine. At the onset of the Islamic revolution, she and her family moved to the United States. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of California-Los Angeles and a master's in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

Dora is the bestselling author of the acclaimed novels Harem, Courtesan, and The Last Romanov. Her fourth and most provocative book, Scent of Butterflies, was released January 7, 2014. She is a frequent contributor to numerous media outlets including the Huffington Post and the Jewish Journal. She has been featured on KCRW, The Politics of Culture, Voice of Russia, Radio Iran and numerous other radio and television programs. She is the recipient of the prestigious San Diego Editors' choice award and was accepted as contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Dora Levy Mossanen's novels have been translated into numerous languages world-wide.

Customer Reviews

I am not going to finish this book.
Harold D. Doublename
I don't mind spending chapters on one day and only a paragraph or two spanning ten years--if that one day is important and the ten years are not.
Alice
The characters are flat and lifeless and all they do seems pointless.
L. Greene

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Alice on August 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
Let me start out with the positive: the story is enjoyable, and had some severe problems been corrected like they should have been during the editing/revising process, Harem would have been a wonderful book.

Now, for the problems: bad pacing, no character development, fantastical characters with no reason to be that way, and the author's demand that you completely suspend belief without telling you why. Let me go into the latter first.

Me--and most fiction readers in general--are willing to let go of reality and believe whatever the writer wants them to believe, as long as it makes sense. As long as they are told why. Mossanen never gives a reason for things; they just are. No reason or rhyme, no effort to show you something instead of just telling you. Continously throughout Harem, she flat out informs the reader of what's what, treating the reader as rather slow. Harem would have been miles ahead of where it is now quality-wise had Mossanen taken steps to correct this one flaw. The reader will accept what the writer puts out there, but she needs to know why she's accepting it. Rebekah is allowed in as the bundle woman for the Harem and is suddenly the best of the best...why? Other than being arrogant, pushy, slightly grating, and a magnificent tease, WHY? Gold Dust is requested to dance for the Shah...WHY? One page she's an unknown newbie in the harem, and on the next page, she's suddenly the favorite. WHY?

Which brings me to my next point: pacing. I don't mind spending chapters on one day and only a paragraph or two spanning ten years--if that one day is important and the ten years are not. Mossanen does not quite seem to understand this. It's not so much a problem of what she does cover.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ratmammy VINE VOICE on May 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
Harem by Dora Levy Mossanen
Last year I read Dora Levy Mossanen's debut novel HAREM, about a fictional family of women that rise above their station in life and live among the world of the Shah of Persia and his consorts. The novel takes place in 14th century Persia, during the days of the Ottoman Empire, and initially centers on the daughter of a Jewish woman living in the Jewish quarters, a life full of poverty and suffering. Rebekah is the daughter of this woman, and her mother sells her as a bride to a man called Jacob the Fatherless, thinking this will be a way to save her daughter from the same fate as hers.
Unfortunately, Jacob treats Rebekah as his property and creates a living hell for the young girl, who is barely 10 years old upon their marriage. She never sees her mother again, and is trapped with Jacob to live out the rest of her life. Before Rebekah goes to live with Jacob however, she hears a voice of a stranger, never sees his face, and thinks this is the man that her mother has promised her to marry. Her dreams are shattered once she marries Jacob, but she will never forget that voice. She carries the memory through her days of suffering under the house of Jacob, who abuses her and nearly kills her. Upon the birth of their daughter Gold Dust, Jacob brands Rebeka with a hot poker, angry that this child is not a son. He starts to believe that this child is not his child at all, accusing Rebekah of adultery, and treats the child the way he treats Rebekah.
Rebekah, like her mother before her, wants only the best for her child, and through bravery and cunning, she finds a way to give Gold Dust that life. Eventually, the young girl makes her way into the Shah's harem, and their lives are changed forever.
Ms.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Traci L. Anderson on July 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
Harem was a brief and not very involving read. The writing lacked lyricism, although it was clear the author tried very hard to peak the reader's imagination. The novel is sprinkled with magical realism without any follow through. Fantastical characters and scenes are presented more for the sake of oddity than for any emphasis on a narrative thread. The implicit promise of eroticism given by the title and subject matter also fails to meet expectations. There is nothing particularly lurid about the more perverse sex scenes, and nothing remotely sexy in those scenes intended to be viewed as romantic or intimate. Ms. Mossanen uses graphic terms to indicate the former, and more airy and vague words for the latter. Obvious reasearch went into this book, the infighting and favoritism inherent in the harem has a bitingly real feel. Unfortunately, nothing else does. And finally, how could the protaganists fail to realize where the fortune lay for so long. That was clear to the reader from the very pivotal moment where it is created in that state.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By zilchic on November 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a book that implies an interesting read, however after about 100 or so pages it becomes clear you been swindled. The author had a much better time writing this than you will have reading it. I recommend Slammerkin, The Dress Lodger, or The Crimson Petal and the White instead, all of a different era however have much more interesting, better developed characters.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "tim12345674" on August 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
As a male reader, I was initially skeptical when a friend recommended this novel about three generations of women. Yet once I started it, I experienced one of those can't-put-it-down experiences that transcended gender. After tearing into this novel for a weekend (it's a quick read, despite being a substantial book), I recommend it very highly to every reader out there.
There are three things in particular that compel me to recommend this first novel by Mossanen. First, her writing style is simultaneously unforced and stunningly beautiful. I kept wondering aloud how this could be her first book. Second, the characters -- both female and male -- are not just well formed, they are wholly alive. Despite the book's exotic setting (ancient Persia), I felt the characters were sitting beside me (performing before me, even) as I read. Finally, the dramatic and unpredictable storyline stuck with me for days -- more than with any book I've read this year, I had been transported into the plotline, rising and falling with Rebekah, Gold Dust, and Raven. As a result, the story churned in my head for days even after I finished the book.
If you are looking for a good tale to take you someplace, this is the one.
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