Greetings from Dubai! I was here last month but didn’t get to post this because I was too busy sightseeing during the few hours I had during my layover. Now I’m here again, slowly making my way back home. Today’s book is by Maha Gargash, who was born and currently lives in Dubai. This is her second book.
Majed Naseemy is the controlling patriarch of an esteemed Emirati family living in Dubai. Years ago, he tricked his brother into signing over his share of their growing agriculture company. His brother died soon after, and many whisper that Majed’s betrayal is what killed him. Now, the family lives in great wealth. Majed has taken responsibility for his brother’s daughter, Mariam, who is studying in Cairo. He also has a daughter, Dalal, from a secret marriage. The family refuses to acknowledge her, and her recent stint on Nights of Dubai, an American Idol-type show, has infuriated her father, who sees such entertainers as low class. Dalal now lives in Cairo with her mother; she’s trying to get her music career off the ground.
Though Majed forbids them from interacting, Mariam and Dalal are close friends. Neither of them have a good relationship with Majed, but he tries to control their every move just the same, going so far as to employ goons to spy on them. The two girls are strikingly different . No matter how much she despises her uncle, Mariam is obedient and always conscious of how her image in public may be interpreted by fellow Emirati; her worst nightmare is being seen doing something improper and having people back home find out. Dalal is the complete opposite; she’s hot-headed and outgoing, and she and her mother openly defy Majed no matter how aggressive or extreme his reactions might be.
The book follows the three as Majed gets more tyrannical in his attempts to control not just the girls but everyone in his orbit. In his eyes, his ability to amply provide for everyone should guarantee their love and respect. However, he is at heart a nasty character who pushes everyone away.
I liked the book because of its different perspectives of Khaleeji culture. Although Majed is almost more of a caricature of a villainous, overbearing patriarch (come to think of it, most of the men in the book are), Mariam, Dalal, and a couple of other characters in the book offer more diverse insights on the lives of Khaleeji women. It’s not a perfect book — the plot sometimes veers off into things that ultimately don’t matter in the end, and it’s at times melodramatic — but it moves along as a brisk pace and is entertaining nonetheless.
That Other Me was published in January 2016 by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins.