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Light of the Desert Paperback – August 28, 2007
About the Author
Lucette Walters was born in Alexandria, Egypt, grew up in Paris, relocated with her family to Chicago, and eventually moved to Los Angeles where she pursued a career in film. She recently completed the screenplay adaptation of Light of the Desert and is working on her second novel.
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Lucette very cleverly opens with a telling incident in 1993 that takes place in Al-Balladi, Jordan – a scenario that introduces the 21-year-old Noora, her younger sister Zaffeera, her father and a strange man from London – all the ingredients of an overture to the novel that then unfolds in 1972 and we witness the birth of Noora by her mother Yasmina and an early indication of the relationship between Noora and her brother Nageeb, and two years later there is equal attention to the birth of Noora’s sister Zaffeera. The reason for concentrating on this aspect of Lucette’s novel is to alert the reader to one of the very important aspects of this story – family, filial relationships, and an aspect of life in the Middle East that includes a tradition called ‘honor killing’ – an ancient secret practice that exists among conservatives in Middle Eastern culture allowing men the right to kill their daughters or other female relatives without impunity if it is believed the woman has dishonored the family.
Lucette wisely condenses this sweeping story in her synopsis – ‘It is 1972 when Noora Fendil is born into a wealthy Middle Eastern family. As she grows up blessed with beautiful eyes and a lean body, Noora’s intelligent yet plain younger sister, Zaffeera, becomes increasingly jealous. But now that Noora is engaged to the only man she has ever wanted, Zaffeera’s envy is about to spiral out of control. Just before her wedding, Noora is framed by Zaffeera, who has developed a diabolical plan to destroy her sister’s happiness. Believing she has shamed him and dishonored the family name, Noora’s father follows a secret ancient practice and attempts to drown her. As her lifeless body floats away from him, Noora’s father has no idea she has survived. Now on a journey to escape her nightmare, Noora’s dangerous path takes her from Jordan to Egypt and France, and eventually California. Along the way, she hides her true identity in the hope that one day she can return to prove her innocence, even as a fundamentalist determined to seek justice stalks her. Light of the Desert shares the moving tale of a Middle Eastern woman’s remarkable journey of survival, courage, and the ultimate act of humanity.’
A great story, beautifully sculpted by an artist of an author who innately understands the rich culture of the Middle East and is able to unfold that sensitively for the reader, but also relates an intense survey of the differences between the cultures of the various locations in which she places her lead character. Somehow Lucette has managed to create a suspense filled story that embraces passionate love, loss, murder, sex and violence with both Middle Eastern family traditions, contrasts with Western ways, and very contemporary lines of betrayal, revenge, escapes, manhunts, and tragedies beyond description and still allow her main character those attributes of spiritualism, faith, and forgiveness. It will make a very fine film, but sociologically it opens windows onto the views of the Middle Eastern life so that the reader in the West can better understand and appreciate the importance of universals and similarities – instead of differences and misunderstandings. Highly recommended on all levels. Grady Harp, September 16
I was captivated from page one.
But what makes “Light of the Desert” so special is the subject matter and how it’s dealt with. The assimilation of Middle Eastern societies into the modern world has been a rocky one, to say the least, and this book expresses the conflicts that have arisen at a very personal level.
Lucette Walters puts us right at the crux of the Islam vs. the West conflict by presenting a young woman, Noora, who comes from a wealthy family from Jordan. She loves her family and her culture, for both have bathed her in nothing but love and security.
The book is good at showing the graceful traditions of the desert societies and all they have to offer the world, especially in a sequence when Noora lives with a Bedouin tribe in the desert for several months and absorbs their understanding of life: “We have lived before. Some things our deep mind remembers. The earth is filled with treasures, as is the night sky. A feast for the eyes.Nourishment for the soul. It all began out there. We come from there; we were made from those stars. If you watch them for a long time, they become part of you again. Part of your heart and you are never alone.”
But being wealthy, Noora is also educated in London and travels extensively in the West (as well as the Far East). She’s not provincial or narrow-minded. But she believes in her faith and lives it as well as she knows how. She is not a rebel or a free thinker, and expects to be married off to a man she loves and live the same life as her mother while never experiencing another man in any way. The West hasn’t changed her into a different type of person.
However, Noora’s younger sister becomes jealous of her relationship to her fiancé and plots to steal him. And here the problems with the fundamentalist Middle Eastern culture arise. Her sister’s scheme leads to Noora’s appearing to be indecent publically (in a way that would not cause anyone in the West to bat an eye) and the aftermath is stunning, as well as certainly beyond anything her sister imagined. Noora’s father kills her for his family’s ‘honor’ – except that “In the face of disaster, an Angel always appears,” and thus we begin an incredible journey for the rest of the book.
“Light of the Desert” is a very hopeful book, with much wisdom. That wisdom lives inside of the characters’ souls and is expressed through their actions, but it is also occasionally condensed into lovely aphorisms that are apropos to the story: “You must follow the journey of your destiny;”“Don’t wait for your ship to come in. Swim out to it;” and “When you are ready, you will be able to feel your pain… without fear,” are just a few.
By the end, Noora has seen the best and the worst of both cultures. But the book doesn’t end in anger. Noora grows from her experiences: “Forgiveness is not easy, but it is something we must practice every day of our lives to live again.” And “You can only reach forgiveness through gratitude… Gratitude for your compassion for those who have done evil. And from that comes to strength to never let it happen again.”
But I didn’t love this book simply for its important message or even its exciting plot. Lucette Walters is simply a great writer. Every page sings with beautiful language and I was caught between the desire to read it as quickly as possible to find out what was going to happen next and wanting to read each page slowly to savor the poetry of it all.
And as a Beverly Hills physician with an exclusive concierge practice, I have noted increasing numbers of wealthy Middle Eastern patients coming to my office. I have found this book to be to be invaluable to understanding their experiences and perspectives, and I have recommended it to many of my colleagues.
Addressing a hugely important and relatively vague issue in the west, the radical practice of honor killing in the Middle East is brought to blinding light. It shook my feminine soul to the very core and mirrored the power of forgiveness and love.
The intertwining and evolution of the characters personalities with their cultural and individual differences, the fast paced story line, and vivid painted pictures of exotic lands, merge into one exciting drama fit for the big screen.
I couldn't put this book down!
I gave it to a friend who called me a week later and said, she loved it, couldn't put it down, and finished it in only three days. "But it's over 500 pages," I said."
"Yes, and I gave it to my girlfriend and she's doing the same thing and plans to give it to her sister when she's through," she said, and that's how this book has been spreading.
The book's subject matter, "Honor Killing," that exists in the Middle Eastern world sounds impossible to believe. How could one possibly attempt to kill one's own daughter who dishonors the family name??? I'm an American where it's almost expected of us to do that these days. But it does exist, and is more common than many of us realize. Stories are now coming out of this occurring here in the U.S. and Canada (just type in "honor killing in the U.S." and you won't believe all the stories). The book quickly sweeps you away from the first page and takes you on a journey through the Arabic world, Southern France and America. I highly recommend this book.