This debut novel follows Saudi Arabian immigrant couple Muneer and Saeedah over four decades. After starting a family in Cleveland in the 1970s, the couple divorces, with Muneer returning to Saudi Arabia and Saeedah taking off with daughter Hanadi in fear that the girl will be taken away.
One of fiction’s greatest possibilities is how it can exist as something both intimate and grand, simultaneously exploring the life of a character and the world they are growing into, until one narrative unfolds into many. Bride of the Sea does just this, as the novel intertwines the dissolution and reconstruction of a single family with the evolving histories of the United States and Saudi Arabia. Eman Quotah deftly spans decades, miles, and cultures—and ultimately tells more stories within her 312 page debut than some authors tell across their entire careers ... The story comes alive in its descriptions, as every page welcomes readers with the sights, scents, and smells of a setting steeped in love and care. Quotah also uses the sensory to enhance every aspect of the novel, from characterization to the plot’s most climatic moments ... As Quotah moves through an extensive period between 1970 and 2018, it’s the narrative spaces, not her scenes, that truly accentuate her strengths as a writer ... Each chapter is an expression of growth, every moment of silence its own story. In its most shining moments, Bride of the Sea displays the breadth and scope of grand family epics such as Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, as we see a family move in rhythm with a larger history ... Quotah’s writing is beautiful, moving, and well-crafted, but the novel refuses to be tied up perfectly upon completion. Instead, the novel mirrors the messiness of life. Readers are presented with instances of detainment and profiling without justice, unhealed heartbreak, and reunions that can’t fully erase past harm. This is ultimately a story about one family and two nations growing apart and together, forever bound to one another. There can be no simple resolution. And that’s the point. Instead of happy endings, Quotah offers us insight.
Where 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.
The novel only gets better...transforming into a family saga that spans from 1970 to 2018 ... Through it all, the secrets, desires and fears of Muneer, Saeedah and their daughter compose a complex picture of how society and the individual shape and inform each other ... Structurally and syntactically, Bride of the Sea is a gem. The shift from the opening in 2018 to the events in 1970 is abrupt, and these moments fuse again as the novel concludes. Quotah structures these connections to maintain the reader’s sense of wonder, to keep you reading through the loop as you learn of each character’s identity and fate, their secrets and stories.