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Rughum & Najda Paperback – March 25, 2012
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
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Top Customer Reviews
Habib is a scholar of the history of sexuality, and particularly female same-sex desire, as reflected in medieval Arabic texts. This novel grew out of that research and weaves a complex portrait of the lives of several women recorded in 9th century Baghdad, at a time when it was possible--if not at all easy--for women who loved each other to make a place for themselves, sometimes in private but sometimes as public figures.
Habib’s research and scholarship is reflected in every paragraph, giving the women’s stories a solid grounding in the historic context and the social realities of the time. The story takes the scant and discontinuous facts and stitches them together into a complete fabric, filled in with plausibilities. We follow Rughum and Najda, the title characters, coming from very different social backgrounds but bound by mutual attraction. We see into the life of the poet Bathal who dared to sing in praise of the love of women in front of the Caliph. We learn of the shadowy world of the tharifas, the “witty women” who found each other in the face of their restricted lives and forbidden passions. And we are introduced in passing to the many scholars and authors whose observations and opinions left the evidence of these women’s lives for us to enjoy. We are treated to flights of language that are often lyrical, drawing on the rhythms and imagery of medieval Arabic love poetry.
What we don’t have, unfortunately, is a coherent novel. The text is fatally uncertain whether it wants to be a fictionalized history or historic fiction and falls, in the end, somewhat awkwardly into the former camp.Read more ›
I knew it was a love story but never are we subject to any cliches-NEVER! The characters are real, dynamic, embrace tragedy, intrigue and complex destinies, all the while, foods, flavors, smells and images rush past as the carpet flies on through multiple worlds to unveil their story. Yes, unveil but not in any voyeuristic way. Their story is heart-felt, complex and yet accessible. You will find yourself rooting for the safety integrity and love of the characters as they embrace what is their locations in life and engage with others whose destinies change and some times change back again.
There is style rhythm and poise in the writing and wisdom, love and honor in the story line. I am already recommending it to my friends.
One favorite part was that the tharifat met in the cemetery. I have seen whole communities in the city of the dead in Cairo, Egypt, so I knew how even this worked in the real world. How can women find time for themselves in a culture and context that puts severe restraints on them?
I also like when one character not only dresses as a man to gain access and mobility, but excelled at the task she performed as scribe in the courts.Read more ›
Perhaps what intrigued me the most is the dynamic nature of the relationships between not only the two main characters but also between a number of female characters of all classes and occupations: slaves, scribes, Quranic verse reciters, singers, and of course ladies of the house. The ahistorical dimension of love as characters evolve in search of happiness brings home the familiar as well as the peculiar all set in the realm of fantasy ... or is it? Falling in love is never left to its own devices. Having thoroughly researched that period, Habib meticulously leads us by the hand through the tumultuous terrain of yearning, lust, ecstasy, betrayal, jealousy and generosity of spirit without neglecting the boundaries of class, gender and of course sexuality.
In short, prohibitions interlaced with sanctioned segregation in an array of whimsical and yet heart-warming story telling has kept me avidly turning the pages only to wish for the book to never end.
I thoroughly recommend this book: a sheer delight.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I loved getting caught up in the middle eastern world of the 9th century and seeing it through the eyes of strong independent women. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
I am not sure what it was that I enjoyed the most, reading this novel. I can tell you that I did not want it to end and rumor has it, there's a sequel in the works, I hope so. Read morePublished on October 29, 2012 by Samira the queen
Unexpectedly, this was a throughly enjoyable read. The style is a step above the rest, the attention to detail is magnificent and the characters are compelling.Published on September 2, 2012 by Cynfoni
I am not into novels, and even less into writing reviews. I read this one because I have read Habib's research on female homosexuality in the Middle East and found it fascinating. Read morePublished on August 21, 2012 by Sam Berner