The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story
New York, 2001. As Hanan al-Shaykh travels through the streets of Manhattan to her daughter's wedding her mind is elsewhere. Remembering own secret ceremony some thirty years ago, her thoughts turn to her mother, Kamila, who was sacrificed into marriage: her absent mother who, in recent, reconciled years, has pleaded with Hanan, her daughter the writer, to tell this story. Lebanon, 1934. Kamila is nine years old when she is taken from the poverty of her childhood village in southern Lebanon to Beirut. Though she has never learned to read or write, stories, poetry and films are her passion, and she longs to go to school. Instead, she is to lead a life of domestic servitude-and worse, she has been secretly betrothed to her brother-in-law, Abu-Hussein, a man eighteen years her senior. A welcome escape from the strict household, Kamila is apprenticed to Fatme the seamstress. One day Kamila catches sight of a beautiful young man, Muhammad, sitting by a fountain. At the age of thirteen, for what will be the first and only time in her life, Kamila falls deeply in love. The following year, to her fury and anguish, Kamila is married to Abu-Hussein. That night, he forces himself upon his child-bride and a daughter is conceived: four years later, Kamila's second daughter, Hanan, is born. In secret, but risking everything, Kamila continues to see Muhammad. But in choosing to follow her heart, she must also, agonisingly, leave behind her beloved daughters Beautifully evoking the fabric of life in Lebanon, The Locust and the Bird is a remarkable and intensely moving memoir. Told in a voice that is entirely distinctive and authentic, this unique portrait of the life of one woman gives us an astonishing insight into the lives of many others in the Arab world.
'Al-Shaykh is an important Arab voice which must be heard now.' - Giles Coren, The Times
'This tender memoir, The Locust and the Bird, taking off from the folklore motif of the attraction of opposites, courageously addresses both the themes of geographical separation and the jagged motifs of mother-daughter conflict' - The Independent
'A gripping account of the life of her mother who, after an adventurous life as a beautiful, film star addicted divorced, cigarette-smoking, prolific, pioneering woman in Lebanon, discovered Prozac in San Diego, when visiting her family there in old age' - The Guardian