An exploration of social status, wealth, desire, and female agency. It presents a mosaic portrait of one young woman's attempt to understand the roots she has grown from, and to envisage an adulthood in which her own power and happiness might find the freedom necessary to bear fruit and flourish. Zuhour, an Omani student at a British university, is caught between the past and the present. As she attempts to form friendships and assimilate in Britain, she can't help but ruminate on the relationships that have been central to her life. Most prominent is her strong emotional bond with Bint Amir, a woman she always thought of as her grandmother, who passed away just after Zuhour left the Arabian Peninsula. As the historical narrative of Bint Amir's challenged circumstances unfurls in captivating fragments, so too does Zuhour's isolated and unfulfilled present, one narrative segueing into another as time slips and dreams mingle with memories.
Bitter Orange Tree offers plenty of detail about Omani life between world wars ... Evocative reading ... Committing Bint Aamir’s life to writing transforms her story into one that inspires reverence, rather than pity. Bint Aamir takes on a mythic quality...and her unchanging appearance, wearing the same garments all her life, gives her a sense of permanence amid the sudden changes in her country. In Alharthi’s world, it’s not only the future that holds promise; the past has possibility and opportunities for revision, too.
The writing is vivid in the descriptions of village life in Oman, but the contemporary setting of the main character, Zuhour, is blandly indistinct. For a book that is supposed to show, according to the back cover, a 'young Omani woman building a life for herself in Britain,' there is very little sense of that life at all ... All of which would be fine, if those stories created any kind of narrative build or sense of character development—for Zuhour or Bint Amir. Instead, there are a series of vignettes, of snippets of memories and family lore, all focused on family and love, how one thwarts—or supports—the other ... What, in the end, is the book about? A series of vignettes offers different views of family constellations, of love shared and thwarted, of parental disapproval and constraints. The writing is interesting on each page, even if there is no narrative build, no compelling emotional journey taken by any of the many characters. Perhaps the book is meant as a series of appetizers, with no main meal. For those who enjoy that kind of reading, dig in. Others will need to look elsewhere.
Rorgeously rendered by Oxford professor Booth ... Alharthi again showcases a puzzle-like narrative that eschews linearity, overlaps stories, and requires attentive commitment ... In probing history, challenging social status, questioning familial bonds and debts, Alharthi’s multilayered pages beautifully, achingly unveil the haunting aloneness of women’s experiences.