This was my sister’s favorite of the three, so I read it first. It follows several different stories, offset by type (bold, italics, normal) to differentiate between the three narrators. The first narrator is Hamid, a young man in his mid-20s from Gaza. He has been taking care of his family since he, his sister, and his aunt were separated from his mother back when he was ten years old. Now, though, his aunt is dead and his sister got pregnant outside marriage, so that he had to give her away to a man he hates for just about no dowry at all. He fantasizes about killing her, but cannot bring himself to violence, so he sets off through the desert one night instead, hoping to walk to Jordon and find his mother there. The second narrator is Maryam, Hamid’s sister, who is thirty-five and now the second wife with a bastard son to take care of. She is caught in the middle of the feud between her brother and husband. The third narrator is the desert itself, impartial and all-knowing.
This is a really fascinating story. We learn about the past – what happened to Hamid’s and Maryam’s family, why Hamid and Maryam’s husband (Zakaria) dislike each other, and more – slowly as the story unfolds, the three narratives weaving in and out of each other, punctuated by beat of a clock that Hamid brought to the house sometime in the past. Only a few hours of time actually pass in the novella, from sunset until dawn, but so much happens, so many transitions. The story is about loyalty, deception, betrayal, honor, and the conflict that comes from lack of communication. Maryam’s story was the most interesting to me. She is a woman abandoned by her brother and scorned by her husband. She spends 35 years of her life unmarried and living according to society’s rules, and is treated like a worthless cow as soon as she “misbehaves.” She felt the most human to me of all the characters, as she sat up in a silent all-night vigil for the brother who is out wandering in the desert. I was really surprised at the way her narrative ended, but like all three endings, it fit. It made sense, but was also very disturbing. Definitely unexpected.