Salma Ibrahim El-Musa, a young girl from Saudi Arabia, flees her home after falling pregnant. With the help of nuns, she ends up in Exeter, a city in Devon County in England. There she struggles to make a new life and changes her name to Sally Asher.
In her culture and religion it is a great sin to become pregnant if unmarried as it is seen as damaging the family reputation and honour and the penalty is that you will be shot death by male relative, in Salma’s case her brother. If you have a brother, he will be the one to kill you or if you have a husband then the husband will be the one to kill you or if you have neither, a male relative gets chosen such as dad, uncle, etc.
In this novel we learn about Salma’s despair at her forced exile and her determination to survive.
The narrative combines short sections giving us an idea of Salma’s life throughout the storyline; they switch almost at random between scenes from Salma’s life with her family before she became pregnant up to the point where she became pregnant, her years of protective custody (when she was in jail as a protection method) just before she flees, following her journey to asylum in England without her baby. We also learn in between how Sally tries to find work and educate herself in Exeter.
So the narrative is not in chronological order but jumps from the one part of Sally’s life to another. Honestly, I did not like the disjointed form works but I guess it works seen from Salma’s point of view.
We get to feel Salma’s pain and horror and her yearning for her lost daughter. We also get an insight into the reality of immigration and how immigrants get easily dismissed or hated in a country that is not your birthplace.
As we read along, Salma eventually marries her professor and gives birth to a baby boy but as time goes on, Salma still yearns for her baby daughter and unfortunately cannot let go of her past. She decides to go back to her country to go look for her daughter. Has life change in Saudi Arabia, was Salma forgiven by her family and will Salma get her daughter back? Well, to find out, I guess you have to read this one.
I have to warn you though, the end result is very unsettling and it stirred ups some very deep emotions such as anger. I will not discuss the end as I do not want to give away spoilers.
The novel was a great read although I felt mostly sad throughout the novel.