(Vintage Books USA, February 1, 2009) The problem with this debut novel is that it is precisely what the title says it is: a story about the consequences of love. No more than that. Despite the dramatic cover design, it is a very plain novel, with a plot straight from the Mills & Boon/Harlequin stables, Middle-Eastern style: boy meets girl, society disapproves, it all ends in tears. It is the story of Eritrean refugee Naser, living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, under strict Muslim law, who wants a woman.
As a light romance, it has some merit, but lacks depth, style and complexity. The conceivably serious subject does not match the skills of the author. It reads like a poorly edited diary, with clichéd language, weak plot, flat characterization and a predictable ending. Despite its potential for provocation it will merely entertain readers. It is too shallow to be memorable and does not really move or shock the reader, nor generate insights into what is, essentially, a world closed to the West. I’m sure Vintage chose to publish it precisely because of that prospect.
I was mildly distracted by what seemed to me a homoerotic sub-theme. Here’s a random extract – this is typical of Addonia’s writing style:
“At the table always reserved for Fawwaz and his cronies – their whispers muffled by their thick mustaches – the boy stretched across to clear the small coffee cups. He put the cups on a tray and sped to the farthest corner of the room to seek the shelter of an air conditioner. He stood facing the wall and he slowly circled his head as he lifted the hem of his thobe to wipe his face. I could see his tight beige velvet trousers contrasting perfectly with the blue tablecloth next to him. The men were setting up a game of dominoes. Fawwaz placed his chin in his hand and peered at the boy. His stern expression could not hide the lust in his eyes. He leapt to his feet and went towards the boy. Fawwaz stood in front of the boy and held out his hand.” (p. 12)
Another: “His deep voice bouncing off the mirror. ’What a beauty you are, my dear Naser. I have watched you grow taller, your eyes swell into the size of oceans, your cheekbones rise, and ah, your neck ascend [sic] to the height of the sky.’” (p. 14)
Considering the plot centres around Naser’s attempts to get together with a woman who drops him a note, I’m not sure what all these sections of men kissing, holding hands, etc., are about. Which is the “illicit” love that reviews of the novel refer to – men and men, or men and women? Nor am I sure what Addonia was trying to say about the segregation of the sexes in Saudi Arabia, or civil liberties, or women’s rights, gay rights, or freedom or religion. If he had a message I must’ve missed it due to all the distracting problems with the structure and writing style.