From Kirkus Reviews
Pillars Of Salt ($29.95; paper $12.95; May 9, 1997; 256 pp.; 1-56656-220-1; paper 1-56656-253-8): This skillfully constructed novel, the second from an acclaimed Jordanian writer, portrays the vulnerability of women in an embattled traditional culture through the stories exchanged by two patients in a mental hospital. One has obediently surrendered to her husband's choice of a younger wife, the other has seen her marriage fall victim to political violence. The histories of Maha and Um Saad, which typify Jordanian experience during the British Mandate that lasted through much of the 1940s, are framed and echoed by the comments of ``The Storyteller,'' who relates them to us in a dazzling and often very moving display of narrative art. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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This remarkable book by a brilliant Jordanian writer is part of Interlink's Emerging Voices: New International Fiction series, which also includes work from such other countries as Chile, Lebanon, Serbia, South Africa, Yemen and Turkey. Faqir's first novel, Nisanet (published by Viking), was hailed by critics for its "passionate, breathtaking, masterful style and powerful storytelling." Clearly, Faqir has not slacked off in her new novel, Pillars of Salt. Here she interweaves ancient Arabic storytelling traditions, with Muslim and Christian theological sources and modern facts, to capture an alternative picture of Jordanian history - the continuing repression of Arab women whose daily contributions to the nation's economy and struggle for independence are stifled in a male-dominated society. This is the story of two women, a Bedouin peasant named Maha from the Jordan Valley, and Um Saad, wife of a prosperous butcher in Amman. They are forced to share a room in the Amman mental hospital to which they have been confined before and after the British Mandate of 1921. At first, Um Saad refuses to speak with a "filthy Bedouin," but the two women gradually become friends, united in a fierce struggle to survive the inhuman rigors of the institution. The life stories they share with one another are simultaneously horrifying and mesmerizing. Maha's husband Harb, an heroic member of the Resistance, was the love of her life. After he is killed by the British, their love is not enough to protect her from the violence and repression that surround her. Um Saad yields, too, to the humiliation of her husband bringing home a new young wife. Faqir's masterful use of irony sets the tale's iconoclastic tone and relieves the characters' relentless pain. In the opening pages, for example, her storyteller, Sami al-Adjnabi, interrupts his smarmy invocation to "Allah the Beneficent" - a disingenuous patter we assume he obsequiously utters before any oral presentation - to say, "On second thoughts, it is my she-ass Aziza who should tell you this story. Faqir's story - most assured unlike any Sami has told ever before -about consequences endured by women who tell the truth is impossible to put down. --Independant Publisher