The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story by Hanan al-Shaykh

I feel that the daughter, Hanan, whose relationship with her mother, Kamila, is almost a 'non-relationship', may not have been the best person to write the book, although it can perhaps be argued that her perspective reveals a side of Kamila that would not have otherwise been revealed. Stretching over more than seventy years, from the 1930s to the the end of the twentieth century, the picture of Kamila's life, set against the background of southern Lebanon and Beirut, is at times heart-wrenching, at other times humorous. Although in love with Muhammad, a poet, Kamila, not more than a child, is forcibly married off to her widower brother-in-law and, by the age of seventeen, is the mother of two small children. She cannot forget Muhammad, and she becomes the family's rebel.

It is difficult, from a Western perspective, to accept that women were (and, in many places, still are) treated in such a manner. That Kamila often comes across as an unsympathetic person could very well be because of the hardship she endured while she was growing up, or else it could be a result of the author's own problems (possibly subconscious) at being abandoned by her mother at the age of six. I would not place the book among 'The Very Best Books I Have Ever Read', but I feel that the book does have some merit, and, on the whole, it is worth reading.

Photo of Hanan al-Shaykh from