RaveThe Washington PostWhere journalism constrains with word counts and column inches, though, novels offer the capaciousness to reveal a society in its complexity; to raise a headline-flattened people into three dimensions. In her engrossing debut novel, Bride of the Sea, Saudi American writer Eman Quotah does this with aplomb, offering Americans a more nuanced view of the Saudi kingdom through a cast of compelling characters and a sweeping plot that spans continents and decades ... The novel sings [...] when the writing luxuriates in moments of characterization and world-building ... Occasionally, and perhaps in an effort to avoid melodrama, the story feints away from emotional climaxes by leaping great expanses of time, which deflates some of the novel’s tension. Still, the book artfully reveals a Saudi kingdom that is \'not only deserts and camels and oil sheikhs,\' as one character wryly states. Quotah’s perspective is an important addition to American fiction.
MixedThe Washington PostUnfortunately, the story fails to fully connect the daughter’s suffering with that of the mother, brushing aside Laila’s history ... But a novelist has the imaginative power to grant access to her most dynamic characters’ lives as they are relevant, and to make structural choices to bring various thematic tunes into concert. Arafat limits the story’s scope to the narrator’s experiences, and the novel is the poorer for it, as the prose is liveliest and most affecting when describing Laila and her relationship to the narrator. Indeed, the book’s best lines belong to Laila ... The way the narrator navigates gender expectations within Middle Eastern culture is equally enthralling ... But these revelatory moments are too sparsely interspersed among a litany of destructive sexual exploits, giving the novel the breathless feel of an overstuffed therapy session, and reducing what might have been a probing examination of the way generational trauma is passed down to a narrow journey through one young woman’s romantic travails.
RaveThe Washington Post...elegant ... In a skillful blending of Eastern and Western literary tradition, Aboulela’s characters are visited by the Hoopoe, a sacred bird that symbolizes wisdom and filial piety ... The novel possesses all the pleasures we’ve come to expect from Aboulela, the author of Lyrics Alley and The Translator: psychological acuity, rich characterization, intricate emotional plotting. And prose that is clear, lovely and resonant as a ringing bell ... But this book is also the mark of an author refreshing herself aesthetically, as Aboulela introduces a fantastical golden thread into realism’s tight weave, to magical effect ... a thrilling, soulful adventure.