Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Review: The Story of Zahra by Hanan Al-Shaykh

The Story of Zahra is Hanan Al-Shaykh's novel about the life of a young woman dealing with her madness in war-torn Lebanon. She is sent to visit a relative in Africa as a rest cure but after electro-shock therapy she is worse than ever and returns to Beirut in the peak of the fighting.

Some interesting themes are touched upon in this book particularly how people deal with living in a war zone but the central theme of mental illness is rather poorly dealt with in my opinion. The subplot of madness seems to have been created to excuse the writer's inability to write in anything other than a disjointed style and many of the portrayals of madness appeared very cliched to me. In the Story of Zahra, none of the other characters are developed to any degree and this makes it bewildering as to why Zahra reacts to them in the way she does and what exactly fuels her mental state.

Whilst at times Zahra's story begins to become interesting these intervals do not last long before irrelevant flashbacks are recounted in rambling style. Unfortunately, rather than eliciting a sympathy for the plight of a young Arabic woman, the author contrives to create a quite unlikable character whose hysteria becomes irritating and her demise that finishes the story is as welcome as it is predictable.

Those readers that like plot-driven novels will find nothing here to interest them although those who appreciate a deeper look at characters may find something to interest them - although they may find they dislike the character they discover.

Score: 4/10

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