Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"Finding Nouf"

Zoë Ferraris has an M.F.A. from Columbia University and received first prize for mystery fiction at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Finding Nouf, and reported the following:
Oh how I wish p. 69 had landed in the middle of a sex scene!

There’s not much sex in Finding Nouf, but an awful lot of sexual tension. The novel is set in Saudi Arabia. It’s about a devout Muslim man, Nayir Sharqi, who wants more than anything to find a wife, but who unfortunately lives in a gender-segregated society. He’s not allowed to talk to women – he doesn’t allow himself to do it, and his society is very restrictive. In fact, just a few months ago, 57 men were arrested in Mecca for the crime of “flirting.” They were hanging around a women’s shopping mall, playing loud music and dancing. For someone like Nayir, who won't even look a woman in the eye, you can imagine what a time he has meeting a woman.

But he gets his chance. When his best friend’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances, Nayir does something he would normally never do: he begins to pry into a woman’s life. And in this prying, he meets a sexy young lab technician, Katya, who wants to solve the crime for reasons of her own. Of course, her sexiness and boldness make Nayir deeply uncomfortable, but without her help, he wouldn’t be able to get any information about the dead girl, so he’s just going to have to sin for a while.

On p. 69, Nayir is in the desert, looking for the crime scene. With the help of an expert Bedouin tracker, they find something else: the victim's shoe. I put the shoe in there in a nod to Columbo, who seemed to have a fetish for feet. Columbo is a kind of hero to Nayir; he’s the simple man who gets the job done. And certainly, there’s nothing sexy or immodest about Peter Falk. By the end, however, Nayir can no longer ignore a painful contradiction -- that he lives in a culture that esteems marriage but segregates the sexes, and that if he wants to find a wife, he’s going to have to shed his modesty for a while and break some of those restrictive rules.
Read an excerpt from Finding Nouf, and learn more about the book and author at Zoë Ferraris' website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue