The Cry of the Dove
A Novelby Fadia Faqir
“Exquisitely woven.” —Leila Aboulela
The new novel from Jordanian-British writer and human rights activist Fadia Faqir is a gripping tale of forbidden love, violated honor, and exile.
Salma has committed a crime considered punishable by death among her Bedouin tribe of Hima in the Levant: she had sex out of wedlock and became pregnant. Despite the danger it would pull into her life and the insult it would commit against her people, Salma has the illegitimate child and suddenly finds herself a fugitive on the run from those seeking to restore their honor.
Salma is placed in protective custody but relief suddenly turns to panic when her newborn child is ripped from her arms upon arrival. Devastated and disowned, Salma sits alone in custody for years in Hima before she is ushered to safety in Exeter, England. Away from the colors and smells of her Bedouin village, Salma is culturally dispossessed. As an asylum seeker trying to melt into the crowd, she finds herself on the other side, under pressure to reassess her values and etiquette. She learns the ways of the English from her elderly landlady and befriends a fiery Pakistani girl who is on the run from an arranged marriage, with whose help Salma is finally able to forge a new identity.
But just as she settles into her new life, the need to return for her lost daughter overwhelms her, and one fateful day, Salma goes back to her village to find the girl. It is a journey that risks everything.
A timely and lyrical novel, The Cry of the Dove is the story of one young woman and an evocative portrait of a culture whose reverberations are felt profoundly in our world today.
“A brilliant Jordanian writer.” —Malcolm Bradbury, The Telegraph Magazine
“Fadia Faqir’s first novel, Nisanit, was decades ahead of its time. Her captivating new novel deals with the timeless themes of unforgiveness, friendship, and travel. Exquisitely woven, laced with humor and social awareness, it hums with the futility of erasing the past.” —Leila Aboulela, author of Minaret and The Translator
“This is a beautiful book, written in vivid, tender prose. . . . Salma is an unforgettable character, fierce and loving, veering between self-hatred and a sense of her own strength, touching and funny. Now I have finished the book, I miss her.” —Maggie Gee, director of The Royal Society of Literature and author of the Orange Prize short-listed novel, The White Family
“Faqir (Pillars of Salt) has written an exquisite novel . . . the discontinuous narrative of Salma’s life is as well constructed as a mosaic in which each tile is lovely in itself but helps to create a whole that is breathtaking. . . . Strongly recommended for all literary collections.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“[A] sinister, moody psychological novel. . . . a dreadful atmosphere of growing menace lurks over the story as its damaged, emotionally disturbed characters interact and form dangerous, obsessive relationships. This is a Highsmith tour-de-force—a must read for those who’ve tested Highsmith territory with the Ripley novels. The Cry of the Owl moves with precision skill to its stunning conclusion.” —Guy Savage, Mostly Fiction
“Mother,” I screamed, spitting the sour lemon out of my mouth. The midwife was sticking sharp iron bars inside me. She scraped and scraped looking for the growing flesh. The fluid of tears did not put out the fire. “Please,” I cried. “I . . . I . . .” and before I could finish the sentence, my mother’s inflated face disappeared into darkness.
When I woke up my mother said, “Nothing. It is still clinging to your womb like a real bastard.” My madraqa was soaked with blood, my dirty hair was stuck to my head and my face was burning with tears. With both hands I began beating my head and crying. “If your father or brother find out they will kill you.”
I knotted the white veil around my head, stood up, and ran up the arid hill, down the arid hill to the school.
“Miss Nailah! Miss Nailah! They will kill me, shoot me between the eyes.”
“What is it?”
“I am pregnant.”
She went pale. “You poor, wretched you.” She straightened her long hair, put on her veil, tightened the knot under her chin, swallowed hard, then sat on the edge of the bed. She finally said with difficulty, “First of all you must hold your tongue. Don’t tell a soul.”
Guide written by Susan Avery
1. At the end of Chapter 1, the narrator, Salma, describes herself as “a rootless windblown desert weed” (p. 32). What does she mean by this? What are Salma’s impressions of her new home in England? What do the vibrant memories of her native soil and the way of life of her Bedouin tribe explain about her?
2. Salma’s narrative alternates between her present existence in England and her past as a shepherdess in Hima. Salma relates her past and why she had to leave her country. She seems to be trying to fit in, but is full of self-hatred. How does she express this? Does this feeling spring from her transgressions against the traditions of her people or her feelings of isolation and alienation in Exeter? Explain.
3. “He would tug at my hair and say, ‘You are my courtesan, my slave.’ ‘Yes, master,’ I would say” (p. 45). How did you feel about Salma’s sexual initiation with Hamdan? What did her mother’s reaction reveal about their relationship in particular and their tribal family in general?
4. Salma has important relationships with a number of women, including her English landlady, Liz, her Pakistani friend, Parvin, and her Welsh friend, Gwen. Each of these women sees a different Salma. Describe their different views of Salma. Do Salma and Sally have different personalities? In what ways do Parvin, Liz, and Gwen affect Salma/Sally?
5. Both Liz and Parvin are straddling two cultures just as Salma is. Liz in her drunkenness often cannot distinguish between her present life in England and her life as a privileged girl in the bygone India of the Raj. Parvin has left her hometown to escape an arranged marriage and is trying to make her way away from her family. How do the circumstances of these two women help to shed light on Salma’s story?
6. “Religion was as weak as the tea in this country. What was left of it was, ‘Is this your maiden or Christian name?’ which the immigration officer had asked me and I did not know how to answer. ‘Muslim no Christian.’” (p. 40). While the story is a tragic one there are numerous instances of humor produced by cross-cultural misunderstandings like this one. What are some other instances of humor in the book?
7. “If I keep stitching and fasting; if I keep silent, I would slip slowly out of my body like a snake shedding her old skin. I might stop being Salma and become someone else, who never had a bite of the forbidden apple. Time might pass quickly so I would slide gently from prison to grave. No pain, resistance or even boredom” (p. 52). Give some examples throughout the story where Salma attempts to be someone she isn’t. Does she take comfort from these attempts?
8. Salma has a black shawl that once belonged to her mother. How does she use this memento of her past life? Talk about other mementoes.
9. Salma is haunted by her past and especially by the baby girl that was wrenched from her at birth. “Suddenly the fine hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I knew that breeze. She was out there crying, looking for a foothold. I knew that wind. A sudden chill ran through me so I bent forward as if winded and hugged my erect nipples” (p. 215). What emotions do you think are directing Salma here? Would you say that she is in a permanent post partum depression?
10. Why do you think Salma marries John? Why after all the years that have passed, a new baby, and the beginning of better prospects for Salma does she decide to go home? What choices would you have liked to see her make after all her years in exile? Explain how you think she could have made these choices.
11. Did you feel the ending was inevitable?
12. What other cultures condone “honor” killings?
Suggestions for further reading:
Brick Lane by Monica Ali; The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther; Small Island by Andrea Levy; The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy; The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi; The Almond by Nedima; The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai; The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf; The Attack by Yasmina Khadra
Water directed by Deepa Mehta; Heat and Dust directed by James Ivory; Mississippi Masala directed by Mira Nair; My Beautiful Laundrette and Dirty Pretty Things directed by Stephen Frears; East is East directed by Damien O’Donnell; Bhaji on the Beach directed by Gurinder Chadha