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Harem: A Novel Paperback – August 6, 2002
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
NOTE..there quite a few disgusting, hurtful,gross scenes. One must remember it was a differrent time.
I was expecting it to be really sexy and have lots of intrigue, but it was quite lacking. I actually had to put this book down, and I rarely do that for any book. The idea that a character could have "singing bones" was just too ridiculous for me.
Anyway, if you want a sultry and sexy mindless read, go for "Harem Girl" instead, this one was just too creepy.
"Harem" is a great example of how *not* to write; this promising novel is completely riddled with Mary Sue characters and "tell, don't show" writing.
The three multi-generational Mary Sues here are Grandmother Rebekah (stunningly violet eyes), Daughter Gold Dust (molten yellow eyes), and Granddaughter Raven (ruby red eyes and silver hair that glows in moonlight). Grandmother Rebekah possesses magical brand in the center of her chest that changes color and shape depending on her moods; the brand was given to her via a hot poker plunged there by her brutish and insane husband. Despite having no training in dance or love-making, she becomes a world-renowned harlot in a matter of a few years, and while she may have to use her body to survive, that doesn't stop her from enjoying her clients.
Daughter Gold Dust, not to be outdone, can consume liquid iron without any harm to herself and her bones literally vibrate music and "sing" when she is happy. She is so beautiful that she captures the attention of the local ruler with little to no effort. Granddaughter Raven is a magical albino; she doesn't have any sun sensitivity, and her only "albino" qualities are the red eyes and silver hair. She matures at an impossibly magical rate, taming wild horses at the age of 5 and sexually initiating herself with adults at the age of 12. She has a cruel streak a mile wide, considers the possibility of her mother's death with total detachment, and is a completely uninteresting one-dimensional character.
Fundamentally, every character in this book is completely static. No one grows or changes in a meaningful way. This is particularly glaring in a multi-generational novel that spans such a long period of time. Rebekah never does anything with her life except advance her daughter's well-being; the indulgent Gold Dust only "loves" the Shah for as long as he is amusing before recklessly pursuing lovers; the impossibly mature Raven ages quickly but never changes: she is constantly an immature imperious child-queen. Major events do not cause room for reflection: Rebekah never wonders if she did the wrong thing in installing her daughter in the harem; Gold Dust never considers if she should be happy with her generous lot in life; Raven never reflects that her mother's death might be anything more than a minor blip on her emotional radar. The characters are untouched by the events around them and are instead propelled blindly forward by the needs of the plot. Supporting characters, such as the Shah, change personality capriciously as the plot requires in order to propel the action.
Several reviews have discussed the sexual content of "Harem". I have absolutely no problem with sexual content, provided that it serves a purpose to the plot. The content in "Harem", however, seems largely provided to fill in blank pages. Rebekah's brutal rape at age 10 seems coldly calculated to maximize "tragic potential". A lesbian scene with "Gold Dust" seems unrealistic and risky - it's not usually a good idea to gamble that a lesbian display will excite your husband in a time period where lesbianism is seen as an indication of a flawed, insane woman. Raven's rape of her father seems completely implausible; there's never any concern that she might suffer his wrath afterward, due to his guilt or revulsion - she just expects to be made the new sultana because of her magical "brains" and "fertility" at 12 years old.
I feel those three scenes serve as illustrations for why the sexuality in this book does not work as a plot device; consider that there are, by my guess, at least a couple dozen similar sex scenes in this book - none of them erotic or plot-relevant, and some of them involving gerbils (I swear I am not making this up) - and you have a good idea of how hard it is to slog through this novel.
I was made uncomfortable by the constant referencing of "light" and "white" skin as beautiful and "dark" skin as ugly and repulsive. This point is made several times over (in fact, a "true love" is rejected when he gets himself suntanned), and Raven-as-albino is held up as the ultimate example of beauty and wonderfulness.
Stay away from "Harem"; I couldn't sell my copy fast enough.
~ Ana Mardoll
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have no issue at all with the sexual content. Such things do not offend me in the least.Read more
This is NOT LITERATURE but TRASH PORN.