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Finding Nouf Paperback – May 6, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 195 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"What's remarkable about this debut is that its mystery takes place within a culture that is largely under wraps ... The thriller plot is well-placed. But it's the individual journeys of Nayir and Katya, who abide by society's strictures even as they are frustrated by them, that elevate Finding Nouf to a larger human drama."

(Entertainment Weekly)

"[Ferraris] weaves a richly detailed tapestry of the country's gender-segregated and pious Muslim culture."

(Washington Post)

"A finely tuned character study ... both particularly well-crafted and readily accessible for American readers. Just make sure you turn up the air-conditioning before sitting down to read."

(Christian Science Monitor)

"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."

(Sarah Weinman Los Angeles Times)

"In Finding Nouf, first-time novelist [Zoe Ferraris] gives us an imaginative and closely observed murder mystery set in the Saudi port town of Jeddah, a literary detective novel that balances the pleasures of plot with finely milled prose ... As a good detective novel should, Finding Nouf visits all the nooks and crannies of society ... Characters a lesser writer would skim over with a few generic adjectives come alive in Ferraris's hands and pull you into their world. But what truly sets this book apart from a detective novel is its prose."

(San Francisco Chronicle)

"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)

"Reads like a breeze ... Ferraris offers a fascinating glimpse inside domestic Saudi Arabia. Even better, she has written a fascinating thriller, not only an academic treatment. Finding Nouf turns out to be a great beach read."

(Cleveland Plain Dealer)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (May 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547237782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547237787
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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